Many of these blogs are exclusive to this site. Some of the most recent ones are from the twice monthly newsletter that I produce for NYR Natual News. You can also read more posts by me at Plan C, which was a collaborative experiment in (sometimes very) 'slow blogging', that explores the issues of Consciousness, Creativity, Connection, Choices and, perhaps most importantly, the Context bubbling below the surface of the sustainability, environment and climate change debates. Plan C posts are also included on this site. My rather short-lived (due to time constraints) audioblog can be found here.

Can science save us?

waning moonThere’s a riveting book doing the rounds in our offices at the moment. (22/5/14)

You may think you’ve heard it all before. In moments of exhaustion or relative lulls in the onslaught of health and environmental problems we face, you may even wonder whether the anger and angst directed at so-called “authorities” is justified.

Then along comes the cheerfully titled Poison Spring, to snap you right back into reality.

The author, EG Vallianatos, worked for the EPA for 25 years in its Office of Pesticides Programs. Together with science writer McKay Jenkins, he paints a scathing portrait of an agency that swings from being powerless to affect sensible changes to protect people and planet to, more darkly, one that’s actively engaged in covering up the truth about everything from dioxins to nerve gas to RoundUp.

Read the full post here.

Why millions marched against Monsanto

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Last weekend more than 2 million people worldwide joined a March Against Monsanto (30/5/13)

While Monsanto has become the focus of many people’s justified ire, the real issue extended beyond the company that has brought us such scientific ‘miracles’ as Agent Orange and aspartame to the continued skulduggery of all the biotech companies including Syngenta, BASF, Dow AgroSciences, Bayer CropScience and DuPont Pioneer to name a few.

Everyone who marched or supported the march had their own legitimate gripes about biotech. For me the patenting of seeds, and the patenting of DNA are among the most urgent. Using the law to stealthily take away our ownership of our food and our bodies (and possibly our health) is abhorrent.

As we monitored the progress of the marches a friend of mine asked: If you eat genetically modified food and the DNA survives inside of you, does Monsanto own you?

It’s not such a crazy question so I hope you will all indulge the length of this comment as I tease out some basic thoughts...

Read the full post here.

Measles and the tedious culture of outrage

waning moonNews of the measles outbreak in Wales in the UK has sparked yet another heated conversation about vaccination. (May 2, 2013)

On the one hand, officialdom claims that Andrew Wakefield’s work linking MMR with autism is completely discredited by the medical profession and in the media; on the other it claims that the work, first published in 1998, was so influential that it has stopped nearly two generations of parents from giving their children the MMR jab.

There is no clarity in the official reporting about who has been affected by the measles outbreak. Those who have caught the disease are referred to as 'victims', 'cases', 'individuals' or 'people', leaving it to our imaginations to fill in the blanks as to what the age range is (and information about a newer outbreak in the Northeast of England is being treated in a similar manner).

Read the full post

Bees with Alzheimer's - the price of pesticides

waning moonWhat we do to the bees we do to ourselves (April 4, 2013)

Imagine what it must be like to forget your way home. To not be able to communicate effectively with others, especially those you live with. To forget the faces, colours, sounds and smells that have been the landmarks in your ‘map’ of life.

These things are part of the experience of Alzheimer’s, a disease that is becoming increasingly common in our ageing population; but also one whose prevalence is rising faster than the population is ageing.

‘Losing’ your mind is NOT a normal part of ageing; something else is causing it. Two recent studies into the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides in bees only strengthen my belief that the cause is environmental.

Both studies found that exposure to common pesticides, neonics and organophosphates, makes bees confused and forgetful. The pesticide exposure disrupts healthy brain activity altering the bees’ behaviour and leaving them unable to learn.

More distressing, and poignant, is the finding that pesticide exposure renders the bees unable to remember the scent of nectar-rich flowers – vital in a bee’s search of food – and to relay that information back to the hive. Remembering is essential to survival not just to that single bee but to the whole hive.

Our bees have Alzheimer’s. And it’s our fault.

Of course, what we do to the natural world we also do to ourselves and the link between pesticide exposure in humans and Alzheimer’s disease is well established. Indeed some data shows that you have a 53% higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s if you have been exposed to pesticides (and an overall 38% higher risk of developing any kind of dementia).

It’s against this broader backdrop that we must view the EU’s recent failure to ban neonicotinoid pesticides.

The European Commission recently called for a temporary moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids after a report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that they posed a high acute risk to pollinators.

But two weeks ago – soon after Neal’s Yard Remedies took its petition to ban neonics to Downing Street – 14 out of the 27 EU nations opposed the ban. Shamefully, the UK, along with Germany, couldn’t even be bothered to vote on the issue.

In the midst of public outcry, the EU issued a statement saying it ‘remains committed to ambitious and proportionate legislative measures’, and, if the EU members fail to reach agreement in the next two months the ban will go through anyway.

Here’s hoping.

Neal’s Yard Remedies’ Bee Lovely campaign was one of the first anti-neonic campaigns in the UK. We took the cause up on behalf of our bees, long before many environmental groups did, and committed money from the sales of our Bee Lovely products to groups who are on the frontline helping to protect them.

As the campaign goes into its final phase we are running a free seed giveaway with the Soil Association this week to encourage the spread of more bee-friendly plants, and have launched our Bee Lovely social network on Project Dirt.

This year, in particular we were inundated with hundreds of worthy bee-friendly causes. If we couldn’t give them all money, we wanted to provide the next best thing – a way for them to connect with each other, share best practice, keep us up to date with their progress and generally scale up the collective impact that these projects are having to help save the bees across the UK.

We’ll be keeping the pressure up and we urge you to do the same. Beyond their beauty – and value to our economy and food system – our bees are also an early warning system. When we find the compassion and the will to save them, we are also saving ourselves.

This piece first appeared on the NYR Natural News newsletter.

Climate change is doing our heads in

waxing moonIf you are despairing over the weather, you are not alone... (March 21, 2013) 

Distressing, urgent news is coming at us so thick and fast at the moment that it is hard to keep up. There’s the EU’s failure to ban bee killing neonics, the UK government’s increasingly pro-GM stance, the ongoing scandals of horsemeat adulteration in our food and shockingly poor care in our hospitals.

And then there’s the weather.

This week, a day that took us from bright sunshine to a sky so dark that the street lights on my road pinged on at noon, to rain, to snow and then to hail left me so discombobulated that it brought to mind a subject that has been in my files for a a while now.

It was a large 2012 report on the mental health implications of a global climate change.

We’ve reported on the health risks of climate change, as well as the natural link between weather and health, before on our site. This US report took that theme further showing that as extreme weather events and disasters become more frequent and more severe, Americans could expect to see a rise in depression and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, suicide and violence.

Worse, the healthcare system is simply not equipped to cope with all the psychological upset provoked by climate-related events.

It’s an ironic conclusion given that, until recently, the US was the largest single contributor to global CO2 emissions (China now has that dubious ‘honour’). Ironic too since the phenomenon of global warming is itself the product of distorted minds, and disconnected hearts, focused on economic growth and exploitation and imbued with an exaggerated sense of man’s dominion over nature.

The Physicians for Social Responsibility have chimed in on this issue too, reviewing the scientific evidence and painting a picture of a future where greater alcohol and substance abuse, family violence, resource wars and a whole spectrum of mental health problems from anxiety and depression to rising rates of schizophrenia are the norm. It notes the establishment of a new category of deep grief: ‘solastalgia’ – the real time distress produced by environmental change impacting on people’s daily lives.

But there is a silver lining, if we can only change the mindsets that put us onto this trajectory in the first place. In a world where many of us are looking for connection, climate change is the thing that binds us. We’re all in it together and if we don’t find the resolve to turn things around solutions to our other pressing problems such as poverty and hunger, will remain elusive.

Getting involved, banding together, turning what has been, up until now, mostly sloganeering into effective action can help fight the sense of powerlessness and bring some positivity into your life. Pick up your rubbish; stop buying so much stuff; walk or take public transport, don’t drive; refuse to buy chemical-laden food, clothes, cosmetics and household goods; turn the lights and other electrical equipment off; learn more about the embedded energy in everything you use or own. But most importantly, direct the power of your vote to politicians who take the problem seriously.

Remember, you don’t have to be an ‘activist’ to do these things – you only need to be an awake and aware citizen of the planet Earth.

This piece first appeared on the NYR Natural News newsletter.

It's food, but not as we know it

waning moonAs big food corporations do their level best to redefine what 'food' is, it's worth asking yourself: What is food? (7/3/13)

What is food?

For the purposes of ensuring a booming food industry the basic definition of food adopted by most government agencies is vague and non-committal and goes something like: “any item that is to be processed, partially processed, or unprocessed for consumption”.

Can you see what’s missing here? This definition is all about processing. It does not address what’s actually in our food, whether it enhances or damages health, how it was grown, the state of the soil or water or the welfare of the animal it comes from, how processing might have destroyed the integrity of the original foodstuff, or indeed whether it contains GM organisms or pesticide residues.

How we define ‘food’ is relevant this week for a couple of reasons.

The US Food and Drug Administration has just opened up consultation on a petition from the dairy industry to change the definition of milk and other dairy products to include any product that contains added non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose. Worse, Big Dairy is further lobbying that, having changed the definition of dairy products to include these sweeteners, it should no longer be required to list these toxic ingredients on the label.

If you believe the food manufacturers, this change would be a public service since, according to the petition, children – for whom obesity is a pressing problem – aren’t eating enough low calorie dairy products because of the stigma attached to ‘reduced calorie’ labels.

The whole thing beggars belief but, in fact, is part of a disturbing trend which sees governments (and to some extent the public) rolling over and allowing multinational corporations to redefine food in their own warped way.

The Coca Cola Company is also involved in working for the ‘public good’ with the launch of its Coming Together campaign. Complete with an infomercial video that launched this week, the campaign tells the story of all the good work the company has done, and continues to do, to ensure we make informed choices about food and health.

It trumpets the fact that, as far back as 30 years ago, the Coca Cola Company was looking after our health by putting Diet Coke on the market.

There is of course, no mention of the facts that: a) the era of the diet drink has made no positive difference to our health, indeed our overall caloric consumption has risen dramatically over that time and; b) non-nutrive sweeteners are harmful to health and have even been implicated in weight gain.

No, the thrust of this bizarre passive-aggressive social messaging campaign is: if you’re fat it’s your fault for making bad choices.

Neither the dairy industry nor Coca Cola make any mention of the context in which our food choices are made, nor of our increasing understanding that no two people and no two calories are the same – nuanced and complex issues which they prefer to disregard.

So, here are a few good choices you can make from this week:

• Favour substance and sustenance over hot air and hype. To this end, ensure your own definition of food is one that is grounded in nutrition: “Food is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for the body. It is usually of plant or animal origin, and contains essential nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, or minerals and is ingested by an organism and assimilated by the organism’s cells in to produce energy, maintain life, and/or stimulate growth.”

• Stop drinking sodas – diet or otherwise. They have no nutritional value whatsoever and are the largest single source of excess sugar and/or harmful sweeteners in our diets. If the Coca Cola Company (and others) goes bust as a result it will be its own fault for making bad choices.

• Let the FDA know you’re not going to put up with this dairy industry nonsense. 
I urge anyone reading this in the US to submit comments speaking out against the redefinition of milk and dairy products before the end of the consultation period on May 21, 2013.

This piece first appeared on the NYR Natural News newsletter

Horsegate - we're busy doing nothing

waxing moon

“We’re busy doing nothing, working the whole day through, trying to find lots of things not to do...” (17/2/13)

Imagine that chorus being sung by an admixture of government ministers, supermarket supremos, catering conglomerates and meat-packers and you have the essence of the official response to the the horsegate scandal.

Today it emerges that the Government has known for nearly two years that horsemeat, possibly contaminated with the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, or bute, was in the food system.

Former agriculture minister Jim Paice is now busily covering his ass. Meanwhile, showing that he misunderstands the story and its implications and the necessary response, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, has been singing the same nonsense refrain for a couple of weeks now: Labelling and testing, testing and labelling, tra la la la la...

Why didn’t the Conservatives do anything? We may never know; when it comes to food politics there are agendas wrapped in plots hidden inside naked ambition.

Go ahead and say that I've watched to many episodes of Yes, Prime Minister or The Thick of It, or read too much Private Eye, but to the Conservative Party 2010 Manifesto may shed some light as to why government agencies sat on this information for so long.

Read the full post here.

Challenging nutritional dogma

waning moonNutritional dogma has nothing to do with human health. When it arises, you can bet someone's making money off it. (February 7, 2013)

It's been a week when a couple of the cherished dogmas of nutritional advice have come crashing down. Long may it continue.

First, there was the much publicised study, based on data from half a million people, which showed that eating eggs did not significantly raise the risk of heart disease or stroke – even if you ate an egg a day.

Then there was the much smaller, but still significant, analysis that found that substituting 'healthy' omega-6 polyunsaturated fats for 'unhealthy' saturated fats actually raised the risk of death from all causes including heart disease.

Amazingly, this is the only randomised controlled human study to date to look at the impact of our increasing intake of omega-6 fatty acids, found in safflower, sunflower, corn, soya and cottonseed oils and so widely used in convenience and processed foods.

Further analysis of other comparable data showed no evidence of benefit from our high omega-6 intake, and suggested a possible increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Rational nutritionists have been saying this for years and indeed other data have pointed to similar conclusions.

But in challenging the prevailing dogma all too often you end up being called a 'quack'  or cyber-stalked by internet trolls – sad people who have nothing better to do than try to undermine whatever doesn't fit their personal narrow-minded mission.

These days too, the UK's Advertising Standards Authority is increasingly being misused as a proxy health watchdog by these so called sceptics. It makes too many magazines and newspapers timidly err on the side of conservatism. And being misused to support the increasingly marginal agenda of a disgruntled few must be very tiresome for the ASA.

Nutrition science isn't clear-cut. It's littered with studies that claim 'associations' and 'links', rather than certainties. Often all we can do is look at what the weight of the evidence says and be prepared to make allowances for individual differences.

Something that affects men might not affect women. What benefits a Caucasian might not work for other ethnicities. Children have different needs and responses to health interventions than adults. Pregnant women are different from non-pregnant women.

If you really want to be healthy look beyond government targets and 'official' health advice which often lags behind the research. Be aware, also, that where official dogma arises it's often because commercial interests are involved.

Health policy is deeply influenced by the food lobby. Even the WHO takes money from Coca-Cola and Nestle and in the UK the Responsibility Deal debacle has allowed fast-food firms, soda makers and supermarkets to directly shape public health policy.

McDonald's and Coca-Cola in charge of our health? What could go wrong? Almost everything, and it's hardly surprising that both the Children's Food Campaign and the consumer magazine Which? have documented multiple failures.

The basic rules of healthy eating – eat real food; prioritise organic, seasonal and local; reduce portion sizes; eat a variety of foods and fats; reduce your meat consumption; cut down on sugar – are little more than common sense.

They’re sometimes hard to remember when faced with the glitzy hard-sell of the latest patented food product, or the promise of some sort of cholesterol-free nirvana, but the rewards will be better health for longer.

This piece first appeared on the NYR Natural News newsletter

What we ignore, what we won't see, what we don't say

waxing moonTwo long running stories of health and deception have suddently hit the news. (January 23, 2013) 

I don't know about you but I  feel like we've all had to hit the ground running in 2013.

Two issues in particular have dominated my inbox: the looming threat of GM salmon and the drip, drip, drip of compensations being awarded to families who claim their children were damaged by the MMR vaccine.

Both are long running stories with their roots in the 1980s and 1990s: GM salmon was patented in 1989 and the long saga of MMR began with a research paper in the Lancet in 1998.

Both stories also involve a lot of government deception. With the salmon, the US government finally gave tacit approval for its sale in April of 2012. Not wanting the issue of GM to hang over the US presidential elections, the announcement of this decision got buried until a magazine investigation revealed the truth last December.

As a result of this, after 24 years of deliberation, during which time the GM salmon trait was quietly reclassified as a drug in order to speed up its approval, the public have been given 60 days (until February 25) to feed into the public consultation before the pro-GM FDA puts genetically modified salmon on our tables.

We urge you to read the story and make your voices heard. We also urge you to be cynical about the recent announcement of a temporary halt on GM crops in the EU (see right). The timing – directly on the heels of the discovery of a potentially dangerous rogue viral gene in more than half of all GM crops – is probably not a coincidence. Prepare yourself for plenty of spin in the near future.

Then there's the issue of vaccination. As a fourth family has been given compensation for a vaccine damaged child, a little-reported-on paper has resurfaced which alleges that the UK's Department of Health and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have skewed and suppressed data on adverse effects of childhood vaccines for decades.

How do we get into situations like this? In part the long timelines involved work in favour of politicians and major corporations. For the rest of us it's easy to get lost in the mire of information, life gets in the way, we get tired, we  assume that, when things go quiet, the story has gone away, or that someone else is dealing with it.

Someone else isn't. It's abundantly clear that our governments and regulators willingly accept illness and death as the collateral damage of profit generation. They lie, they cheat, they obfuscate and misdirect, they choose to ignore vital information. And we let them get away with it.

Paying attention is one of our most important backstops. That and public outrage. When we speak out at great enough volume and in great enough numbers the tide will turn. The government exists to serve the people. For our health and well being, let's insist it understands that hierarchy and serves us well.

This piece first appeared on the NYR Natural News newsletter

Antibiotics in your food - beyond bacterial resistance

waning moonIntensive livestock rearing is a particularly bad example of the way humans continue to foul their own nests (January 10, 2013). 

There are many things to abhor about the way we raise the animals that provide us with meat, milk and eggs. The intensive livestock system is dirty, cruel and unethical. It damages the animals caught up it in and the environment around them.

We’ve ignored evidence of this harm for a long time, but it is becoming apparent that Karma is catching up with us. In upholding a system of drugged-up, intensively reared livestock – all in the name of cheap meat – we are fouling our own nests.

It's not just the obvious visible dirt and disease that hangs like a cloud – sometimes literally – over intensive livestock facilities. It’s the toxic effects that are less immediately obviously that are now cutting a swathe across human health.

Antibiotic resistance is the first, most obvious and well-researched of these, but it’s not the only one.

It's been known since the 1950s that feeding low doses of antibiotics to livestock increases their weight gain. The practice, dubbed subtherapeutic antibiotic therapy (STAT), lowers feed costs while increasing the price that farmers get for their meat. Now, after decades of antibiotic abuse on the farm scientists have begun to ask the obvious question: can antibiotic residues in our meat also make us gain weight?

It's looking likely that the answer is yes.

Last summer a study in the journal Nature found that antibiotics altered the mix of bacteria in the intestines of mice and caused the rodents to build up more fat than normal.

In a separate human study, the same scientists reported a link between antibiotic use in babies younger than 6 months old and being overweight at age 3.

A third study last year found that, in humans, antibiotic overload can lead to a greater risk of inflammatory bowel disorders such as IBS and Crohn’s disease.

The human gut contains more than 100 trillion individual bacterium, from more than 500 different species – all in a delicate balance. This is our ‘gut microbiome’.

From immune-related disorders like allergies and asthma to the ability to fight off pathogens, our microbiome is now understood to be deeply involved in controlling our health.

While antibiotic residues are not the whole answer to why overweight and obesity have become epidemic, they appear to be an important piece of the puzzle, and one that reinforces the notion that all of our choices and actions have consequences.

If anyone asks me why I choose organic, it's because increasingly the feel good factor that comes from making this choice is more than emotional – it quite literally can be the difference between health and disease.

This piece first appeared on the NYR Natural News newsletter

Organic farming - lifestyle or lifeline?

waxing moonLet's grab this lifeline before it's too late. (October 18, 2012)

There are some people who believe that organic is just a lifestyle choice.

I see it differently. Increasingly, organic is the only rational choice to maintain a sustainable and productive farming system, to preserve the essential diversity of the natural world and to ensure the quality and safety of the foods we eat.

Now there's another good reason to add to the list. Ensuring that vital medicines such as antibiotics continue to work when they are most needed.

I don't say this lightly. I'm the first person to refuse antibiotics and I'm proud to say my grown up son has never once used them. Proud because I managed to protect him from frivolous prescribing habits of doctors and proud because hopefully if he ever needs – and I mean really needs – antibiotics, they have some chance of actually working.

Antibiotic resistance is now of such a scale globally that most of us can't comprehend it. And it's getting worse. First there was hospital acquired MRSA. Then community acquired MRSA. Now there's livestock-associated MRSA. And there's no cure.

Recently a joint research project of American and Dutch researchers found that intensive livestock farming was a breeding ground for livestock associated MRSA. The more animals in one place, the greater the risk.

This MRSA doesn't just remain on the farm. It lodges in the nasal passages of farm workers and is carried out into the community, where it is spreads to the rest of us.

This is a problem that has been building for some time. In 2010 scientists identified a strain of MRSA emerging from the factory farms of Northern Europe.

Last year researchers at the University of Cambridge identified another new strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in milk from dairy cows.

The new strain’s genetic makeup differs greatly from previous strains, which means that current tests used to identify resistant types of MRSA are not able detect it. This strain has now been found in people in Scotland, England, Denmark, Ireland and Germany.

Earlier this year antibiotic residues in sausage meat were linked to an increased likelihood of food poisoning.

Organic farming avoids unnecessary antibiotic use, meaning our meat and milk and communities are safe from these kinds of risks.

Choosing organic isn't a lifestyle, it's a life line. Let's grab it before it's too late.

This piece first appeared on the NYR Natural News newsletter

The Ecologist - never 'just' a magazine

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A personal reflection on the Ecologist/Resurgence 'merger' – and the end of an era (6/6/12)

The Ecologist was never 'just' a magazine. There were some years when it didn't look or read like a magazine at all.

The Ecologist was a state of mind, a way of thinking and being and feeling. It was a little flame nurtured and kept alive in the hearts of those who believed that the world could change for the better.

To me its 'end' as an independent entity is in many ways a sad metaphor for the very things it fought against. Teddy Goldsmith founded the publication with a deep love of all things wild and natural and a deep disdain for those arrogant men who would claim the right to dominate, to change, to tame, to pollute, to genetically modify the true nature of anything to suit some artificial notion of progress. That overriding principle – a kind of environmental commitment to “first do no harm” informed our work almost to the end.

Read full post here.

Why big business is bad for food

waxing moon

In the run up to tomorrow's annual Soil Association Conference I thought I'd put up my introductory remarks from the Battle of Ideas debate last October... (1/3/12)

Food is a really dynamic subject area and more complex than a lot of us realise. On the one hand it’s in our faces – literally – every day. On the other it’s something remote and almost untouchable because the globalisation our food industry has left many of us completely out of touch with the processes by which it gets there, the assumptions that those processes depend on, the way that our food system both reflects and helps to reinforce prevailing moral, social, economic and political norms.

The bigger world of food is heavily polluted by the notion that caused our financial institutions to implode, namely that it is too big to fail...

Read the full post

Green gas-bagging - the false promise of anaerobic digestion

waxing moon

True story. In 2010/11 I became an anaerobic digester bore. (3/1/12)

I was campaigning with Compassion in World Farming against the proposed Nocton Dairies in Lincolnshire. 

 There were any number of important reasons to object to the proposal which initially wanted to raise 8000 cows indoors in US disgraceful mega-dairy conditions. But for me the key to stopping it was to strike at a particular weak point the anaerobic digester – the feature the owners touted around as a green feather in their cap. 

“Stop the digester and you stop the dairy.” I said to anyone who would listen. In fact, stop the digester and you stop any kind of mega-farm in the UK. Few people did actually listen. Mainstream journalists thought the story was too complex and not 'sexy' enough. In-house, there was fear of losing focus on the animal welfare message. And what if we were wrong about AD? What if it really was a green miracle? Decades of listening to tedious 'greewash' about energy miracles, however, made me smell a green, gas-bagging rat...

Read the full post here

Multivitamins controversy - more questions than answers

waning moon

You could hardly have failed to notice the headlines this week; a new study claims to show that vitamins can kill you. (October 18, 2011)

But before we find ourselves in the grip of widespread multivitamin phobia, it’s worth considering the context in which the story has appeared, as well as considering what the study actually said – versus what a sensationalist media would have you believe it said.

In America and in Europe the consumers' freedom to continue to purchase the wide variety of nutritional supplements we currently enjoy is under threat. On both sides of the Atlantic powerful lobbyists are pushing to restrict what we can buy and to bring in complex and expensive registration and licensing procedures for vitamin and mineral supplements most of which have been on sale for decades and used safely by millions of people.

Should this happen, the manufacture of our vitamin supplements would likely fall solely to major pharmaceutical companies. Smaller companies who also make supplements would simply not have the funds available to meet the licensing requirements.

We are already seeing the beginning of something similar with herbal products in Europe, many of this were taken off the market in May 2011 under the auspices of the European Traditional Herbal Medicinal Herbal Products Directive (THMPD).

Had this context not been in place this study which, while interesting, is hardly the final word on the subject, would never have been given the space or attention it has received in the last two days.

Read the full post here.

Occupy Everthing... but after the anger, then what?

waning moonWhat do the protesters want? A fairer world! When do they want it? Now! What ideas have they got and what are they willing to do to in their own lives to make it happen? Erm... (17/10/11)

We live in a world desperately out of balance. A world with problems seemingly so severe and out of control that to stop and think about them is to risk intellectual and emotional paralysis. So we take the issues apart in small ways to help us cope. We complain to let off steam. But very often we fail to follow the path to the actual solutions necessary to drive change forward. 

Depending on who you listen to the Occupy Everything protests are either a revolt against the greed of the 1% or against the enforced austerity in the lives of the 99%, all brought about by the incompetent, lazy and self-interested handling of the global banking crisis. Generally speaking the protests are now being called ‘anti-capitalist’. 

It’s undeniably good to see people finding their voices and I know so many people who see the current raft of ‘occupy everything’ protests as a sign that the public is finally becoming radicalised, finally finding its power and vision. 

I want desperately to believe that this is so. But every instinct I have tells me it is not. The occupy everything protests are not the end of the conversation, they aren’t even the first word. They are the tentative first breath we take before uttering that first word. There's a long conversation that still needs to be begun...

Read the full post here.

Down on the Fish Farm

waxing moon

Firstly dear reader, my apologies. This is a long one. But when it comes to 'tuna ranching', there is just so much to say. (8/8/11)

 A new report from Umami Sustainable Seafood Inc– a US-based seafood company and the largest supplier of sashimi-grade bluefin in the world – says that for the third year running natural spawning of captive bluefin Tuna has been recorded at its research and production facility in Croatia.
The report has been picked up by the press in a kind of lackadaisical,
non-critical wayAnd if the champagne corks aren’t exactly popping, well maybe it’s because, what can we really say about it? Hurrah! Tuna can now get all the same diseases and cause all the same environmental damage as salmon!

I would not presume to understand all that the business of aquaculture entails. I do, however, understand the environmental damage, to the sea and on land, that is being caused by that industry. Adding yet another big fish to the pond is not going to make things better.

Read the full post here

Infinite economic growth – an addiction that will kill us all

new moonLook beyond all the theatre of the US debt crisis, and there is opportunity in disguise, says Pat Thomas (31/7/11)

Amidst all the hand-wringing about the US debt crisis, there’s been very little space given to whether the system that everyone is trying to prop up is actually worth saving. America, like most of the affluent West, is built on a foundation of infinite growth. And yet worshipping at this altar is a significant reason why the US has borrowed more than it can afford to repay, bringing the country to the brink of bankruptcy.

As Congress continues squabbling over-tired sugar-saturated kindergarteners, Americans are rightfully afraid that the party really is over, that the ‘American way of life’ is dying, and that this death brings with it a future where an easy sense of entitlement and rampant consumerism and economy based on endless growth is over and where we will all need to apply more appropriate limits. This feels like death, and yet it is a basic tenet of life that something has to die before something else can be born.

The US debt crisis could actually be an opportunity disguised as a crisis. But sadly, there seems to be little enthusiasm for such revolutionary thought, let alone action, to reshape the economy. Instead the likely outcome is an anti-climactic compromise aimed at maintaining America’s triple A credit rating whatever the costs; one that will be used to 'prove' that the system works, but which in reality is propping up something that is morally wrong, culturally devastating, spiritually toxic and, of course, environmentally disastrous.

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Moon Madness

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Scientists say that strip mining the moon will reward us with cheap energy. Pat Thomas sees the dark side of their moon madness (20/7/11)

What do you see when you look at the moon? The romantic sees an opportunity to steal a kiss and dance a little closer. An astrologer may see the symbolism of the Earth’s constant companion, the shadow to the Sun’s light, the yin to its yang. A woman might see the waxing and waning of her own physiological cycles. A biodynamic farmer might see a cue about when to plant, cultivate or harvest. A businessman may see a landscape to exploit for future profit and a scientist a novel energy source to be harvested. 

Amongst all of these, it is the extraction of energy in the form of helium-3 (He-3) that seems to be attracting the greatest media interest at the moment.  He-3 – an apparently ‘cleaner’ fuel for nuclear fusion reactors that is almost unavailable on Earth – is purportedly abundant in moon rocks.

As a result, more 40 years after the first moon landing, a second race for the moon is under way and the international competition is intense. 

NASA's Vision for Space Exploration sees American astronauts back on the moon in 2020 and permanently staffing a base there by 2024. The US space agency has neither announced nor denied plans to mine He-3, and according to a 2007 article in Technology Review it has nevertheless placed advocates of mining He-3 in influential positions.

Russia, China and India are now all part of the race to get hold of the moons He-3. So are Germany and Japan. 

Reconquering the moon, of course, is a beginning rather than an end in itself. It is a gateway for the exploitation of resources on other planets, to help us continue fuel our lifestyles here on Earth.

Read the full post here.


The unhealthy fallacy of food 'choices'

waning moonIf you want people to stop eating bad food, stop selling it...Pat Thomas makes a plea for Government to stop tinkering around the edges of health and sustainability. (21/5/11)

It’s been a bad week for anyone who cares about food. Defra – with it’s finger always on the pulse of a dead horse that’s been flogged to death – announced its intention to push through plans to intensify livestock production in the UK. This in spite of the fact that the intensive model is not feeding the world, is driving biodiversity loss and soil degradation and is driving farmers out of business. Given that intensive farming actually threatens our future food security you have to wonder what the Government’s real agenda is here.

We have also seen the recent release of a couple of new foodie films: Planeat here in the UK – which advocates a vegan lifestyle for health and sustainability and Forks Over Knives in the US – which proposes that most human disease is caused by meat and junk food heavy diets.

Like Food Inc before them, they examine the human and global cost of our unbalanced, unsustainable food production and consumption, but never quite get to the heart of the matter. As long as we continue to advocate highly processed foods and high calories take-aways as a basic human right, we will never make any progress in health or sustainability.

It seems to me time to raise the issue of ‘choice’ and specifically ‘choice editing’ once again...

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The burden of the beauty monoculture

waxing moonThe one size, one shape, one skin tone monoculture that dominates our ideas of beauty is a cultural poison. The only antidote is to recognise that beauty is a journey, not a destination. (7/4/11)

Spring is here. The birds are singing. The trees are blooming. In stores across the country a colourful array of swimsuits has cropped up. Never a comfortable time for me.

As much as I love swimming, and walking and climbing, my own inner ‘beauty critic’ is never entirely silent, even when I am immersed in nature.  The birds in my beloved local park don’t care that my hair is dirty, or that my bottom seems to be taking on a life of its own. But I still do.

So it was with some dismay that my worst fears were confirmed by new global research which found that for most females the inner beauty critic has already arrived by the time she is 14 years old and continues to erode her self-esteem as she ages. The research, the Real Truth About Beauty, was commissioned by Dove.

Dove of course is the brand behind the Real Beauty Campaign, launched in 2004, which featured lots of gals of different shapes and sizes (within a popularly ‘acceptable‘ range of course, and not an ounce of cellulite or a ‘bingo wing’ in sight) in their impossibly white undies.

The campaign came as close to cause marketing as any beauty company has ever come, and pioneered the use of real women in advertising. Critics said it was likely to be counter-productive because the marketing messages in the beauty industry are supposed to be aspirational and the images it gives us to aspire to unobtainable. It is the resulting frustration and dissatisfaction that absolutely drives beauty products sales. We all want to believe that the next product will be the one that actually delivers – even though it never is...

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We don't need

waning moonI should have loved the Wayseer Manifesto video – which aims to unite those of us who stand outside the mainstream into a powerful, creative movement. But it left me cold and unsettled... (24/3/11)

Once, in a former incarnation, I sat in a room full of pregnant women. I was facilitating a workshop on the practical, emotional and spiritual aspects of home birth. During the course of the afternoon it became apparent that many of the women felt keenly just how outside the system their thinking and their actions were and how disapproving so many of the people around them were. I asked, half joking, “How does it feel to be a freak?”. As we began to explore the F-word in more detail half the women in the room burst into tears.

I saw my own life experience being mirrored back to me.  “Don’t be such a dreamer”. “You’re being impractical”. “You romanticise everything”. “What do you mean you ‘just know’?”. “That’s not the way we do things”. "You've got to learn to fit in”. “Don’t be so sensitive”. “You just have to develop a thicker skin”. My mother told me, repeatedly, that I would never have a husband because I was too clever.

I’ve lived with it all my life. I know, as these women did, that the very traits that society says are my weaknesses are actually my strengths. In fact, I sometimes think that women, living in what is still such a macho society, know this best of all. We either believe in ourselves, love ourselves, or we die a slow, agonising pseudo-death which leaves us walking around in the world with nothing holding us up but that thicker skin so highly prized by the patriarchy.

So why did I feel so mad when I watched the new video, Wayseer Manifesto
by author Garret John LoPorto?...

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Seeing Stars

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Astronomy in the blue corner, astrology in the red corner. Is this the most pointless fight in the universe? asks Pat Thomas (24/01/11)

Early in January BBC2 broadcast Stargazing Live, a three-night experiment in looking at the stars. The programme, truth be told, was nearly as dull as the night skies over that period. Until...

Dara O'Briain said it first: “Let’s get this straight once and for all, astrology is rubbish”. Then Brian Cox, agreed: “in the interests of balance on the BBC, yes astrology is nonsense.”

This was the second time I’d heard the normally pleasant Brian Cox say something like this and while I admire both men, they completely lost me at that point. I switched off.

Offended is too strong a word. I’d have to care about their opinions to be offended. So, 'miffed' maybe. Because I enjoy astrology as a hobby, and who the fuck are these men to tell me that my hobby, something that I derive pleasure from, is “nonsense” or “rubbish”?

I was miffed, also, by the beside-the-pointness of it all. If Madonna had exposed her breasts on stage, or Russell Brand had humiliated yet another unsuspecting victim live on radio we would all have rightly dismissed it as a tiresome and rather desperate grab for attention. Since the clouds in the sky failed to part during their three-night, mid-winter experiment in real time astronomy, maybe that’s just what it was...

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Lies, secrets and the resurrection of the fourth estate

waning moonRumours of the death of print journalism may be premature – thank goodness (1/8/2010) Audioblog transcript

The purpose of this audioblog is to highlight stories that made me feel a little more hopeful and what’s doing it for me this week is journalism – or more specifically the way that print journalism seems to be rising phoenix-like from the ashes and showing how valuable and important it is in a free society.

As a journalist and editor I’ve had the unhappy experience of working with people who believe that print is dead. They’ve misunderstood, or maybe they never understood, how powerful long-form and investigative journalism can be in provoking change, provoking thought, provoking outrage in some cases. There is a belief that we don’t need newspapers or magazines anymore because all the information people need is already somewhere on the internet.

In this respect, so I am told, the world wide web is setting us free. And while I am a big user of the web, and I appreciate the public access aspect of it and the speedy connections with other people and countries, the fact is that information on its own is completely worthless. Doesn’t matter how explosive the information potentially is, a handful of seemingly disconnected facts scattered around the millions of websites that are available to us, lost amongst the dross of me-too postings on twitter and facebook have the power to change absolutely nothing. It is total nonsense to assume that just because something is in the public domain that the public will somehow be interested or able to graze the net and get what it needs. I sometimes think that the increasing amounts of data on the net are the electronic equivalent of junk food. Lots of data/calories but little actual intellectual/nutritional substance...

Read the full transcript here. Listen here.

Aid agencies must be accountable and transparent

waxing moonWhen you give your money to an aid agency, don’t you want to know how it is being spent? My latest audioblog asks when are aid agencies going to start being more upfront about their work. Transcript below… (19/7/2010) Audioblog transcript

There is no question in my mind what the most affecting story of the past week was. It was Sean Penn’s erudite, thoughtful, really powerful interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!  

Sean has become the manager of an intentional refugee camp in Haiti that currently houses 55,000 people, and he is bringing his not inconsiderable intelligence, strength of will, his enviable network of contacts, and the organisational skills honed by years of working in the unpredictable world of making movies to bear to provide security and access to healthcare and other services. It’s absolutely worth taking an hour out, perhaps over your lunch break, to listen to what he has to say.

The report was made all the more poignant because it has been six months since the earthquake devastated one of the poorest countries in the world. With the hurricane season bearing down on the displaced Haitians, you’d expect to see some progress in helping them to rebuild their lives, maybe some permanent structures to help them weather the coming storm. But that just hasn’t happened.

Let’s put aside for the moment the $5.3 billion in relief aid pledged by world governments. Less than 2 per cent of this, by the way, has actually been paid and most rich nations continue to drag their heels on the issue of when they are actually going to pay up. I think most of us have become cynical enough not to expect governments to deliver on the promises they make to those most in need. But aid agencies – that is a whole different kettle of fish...

Read the full transcript here. Listen here.

How are you feeling?

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I’d been looking for stories that made me feel something other than just plain angry… not so easy these days. And then I had an idea... (12/7/2010) Audioblog transcript

The result was my audioblog, ecoreflections360, the text of which appears below, and which provides extended commentary on those stories that I found most meaningful and interesting and uplifting amongst those which I have tweeted during the previous week. Lilnks to the full transcript and audio below.

Being  (Fully) Human

It’s really, really difficult to know how to begin, how to pick out the best stories in the news, especially when we are so bombarded with information on a daily basis. I think the journalist in me always wants to pick the biggest story or the brightest angle, to be seen to be staying on top of the news.

But the human being in me tends to look for those stories that connect either literally or symbolically with what’s going on in my own world in my own inner life. And because of that I was immensely grateful for an essay [Struggling to be ‘Fully Alive’] by Robert Jensen at the University of Texas at Austin, which was trying to get to the bottom of the feelings that accompany our intellectual understanding that we live in a world in collapse.

It was a fascinating collection of responses to his request that people write to him and tell him what they are feeling. Not just what they think, not just the facts about how enormous the national debt is, or much CO2 is in the atmosphere, or how much oil is spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from that giant hole in the earth, but what they feel when confronted with these things. And it renewed my faith in humanity that we are not, as we are sometimes portrayed, a race of desensitised individuals. I mean there’s always going to be someone who tells you that we need to be rational – whatever that is – that a feeling response to events is not practical, and there will always be people who are so out of touch with their own feeling response that they actively resent yours.

But what I was reading here were the sensitive thoughtful, complex responses to the grief that so many of us feel as we watch the world basically go down the toilet: hopelessness, sadness, a sense of amusement at the absurdity of it all, pressure, rage, guilt, a sense of being trapped and an enormous amount of anger at what Jensen called the ‘elites’; the politicians the multinationals and the media propagandists who promote, continue to promote, in spite of all the evidence, the same arrogant and greedy and ethically and morally deficient behaviour which is hastening this collapse...

Read the full transcript here. Listen here.

Finding spirit in the sludge

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How a head and heart response to Deepwater Horizon can help fight Gulf Fatigue. By Pat Thomas (15/6/10) 

It was with some trepidation that I tweeted an unconventional prayerfor the Gulf of Mexico this morning. Bang goes my badass eco persona. And possibly my intellectual credibility.

It’s extraordinary that those of us who identify as ‘spiritual but not religious’ (SBNR – there’s even a facebook page)  are so often afraid to admit to our esoteric sides for fear of being dismissed as incapable of rational thought or scientific understanding – or worse lumped in with the extreme end of the spectrum goofy narcissistic new-agers.

Nuts to that – I won’t be pigeon-holed.

My longheld belief is that we need to look at and understand the world, and each other, and current events from a lot of different perspectives in order to keep our thinking sharp and our souls courageous.

Besides, it wasn’t just that the poem that moved me. It was also my growing unease with the media scramble to be first with the biggest exclusives, the freshest perspectives and the hardest facts on the Gulf disaster. In newsrooms across the globe you can smell the testosterone, even amongst the women, as everyone elbows everyone else out of the way in the battle for a prominent byline and a place in the history of the event.

For politicians, likewise, the BP disaster is an opportunity to tough talk the spill in terms of national pride, economics, political gain and stock market prices. It’s a hot potato in the apparently ‘special’ relationship between the US and the UK. Same with social network sites like Twitter which, at their best, can be rich sources of different perspectives and original thought, but which have become awash with received opinions and endless retweets of the same old (BP) stories.

The melee has plunged us into information overload. We are drowning in a sludgy sea of everything from number crunching the gallons of oil lost, to the bookies' odds on which endangered species will drift into extinction first. It’s an overwhelming tidal wave of ever longer strings of adjectives describing the horror of unfolding events.

I think I must be suffering from Gulf Fatigue, and I can’t help but wonder: if we continually respond from our heads, or worse from our competitive, cavemen (and cavewomen) selves aren’t we in danger of reinforcing the same kind of cultural shallowness and even arrogance, that led to the explosion in the first place? Doesn’t the overload follow the same dreary business-as-usual way of being and threaten to endanger certain things in us as human beings? Perspective for one. A thoughtful felt response for another. And I suppose a sense of spiritual wounding as well...

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Why BP just doesn't care

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BP's heart isn't in the clean-up because, says Pat Thomas, to them Deepwater Horizon really is just a drop in the ocean. (3/6/10)

So let’s review where we are.

In a series of lack-lustre attempts to stem the flow of oil in the gulf British Petroleum, third largest energy company and the fourth largest company in the world has employed:

    ● Oil booms to contain the spill. Result: They haven’t really managed to contain much

    ● Controlled burning. Result:Ooops, burning oil causes serious air pollution

    ● Chemical dispersants. Result:BP chose to use the cheapest and least effective dispersant – one that had been stockpiled in local warehouses – and astonishingly it hasn’t really worked. The ingredients are toxic to marine life and mixed with all the chemicals in the Gulf, probably especially nitrogen fertilisers, it may form even more toxic chemical compounds

    ● Trying to put a lid on it. Result: No good; the big dome placed over the leak became blocked by ice crystals

    ● A mile-long tube to suck up the oil on the surface. Result:Erm, it didn’t actually suck up much oil

    ● "Operation Top-kill" – a  typically GI Joe nomenclature for a plan in which in which heavy mud was going to be pumped into the gaping hole in the pipe. Result: They threw a lot of mud at it but none of it stuck

    ● Robots to cut into the pipes. Result: No news yet but given the company’s track record...

In a handful of life-imitating-Homer-Simpson moments the company has also proposed throwing pantyhose, dog and human hair and golf balls at the problem. As if there wasn't already enough garbage in the Gulf.

D’oh! ...

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Let's talk about failure

waning moonPat Thomas, David Key and Osbert Lancaster on the dreaded F-word. (1/6/10)

"I tell clients we can beat climate change, I don't say we might fail",  says a leading sustainability adviser. "It's like coaching a football team going up against strong competition, you tell them they can win. You don't tell them the opposition's tough and they're likely to be thrashed."

Variations on this analogy dominate discussion of climate change – especially communications to build public support for a strong and binding deal in Cancún in Mexico in November: “We've got to win, if we all try hard enough we will win...”; “Don't mention failure, no one will be inspired and we'll fail...”

As Football World Cup fever grows, flags are waiving and the chants of “win, win, win” are getting louder. But lose at football and you can play again. Lose at the climate challenge and climate related disasters affect hundreds of millions of people;  economic impacts could be hundreds of billions of dollars and sea level rises could affect 1 in 10 of the world's population.  And there’s no rematch.

'Got-to-win' is simply the wrong approach to communicate about situations where the possibility of failure is real, the impact of doing so significant and the opportunity for recovery limited.

We need honesty about the possibility of failure. Unless failure is an option, you can't make contingency plans. Without realistic contingency plans in development we lose valuable time if things do go wrong.

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Politicians: it's time to embrace the chaos

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The people have voted for change in the UK general elections, says Pat Thomas. Which political leader will be courageous enough to respond? (9/5/10)

Stability. Ever since the votes were counted in the UK’s general election and the reality of a hung parliament was made clear, 'stability' has been the message of our potential leaders.

The juxtaposition of concepts is pure PR gold. These are ‘changing times’, 'challenging times' and we need ‘stability’. The strongest leader will be the one that can supply that quality in the greatest measure. At the moment voters are assured that behind the scenes, and with no party having an overall majority, Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and a handful of independents are bargaining for the benefit of the country, for the stability that we all want – and need.

But is stability really what we want – or need? And as goals go is it really the best thing for the country in the short-term? 

Certainly, in pursuit of a good story, in desperation to make the election sexy and dramatic, the media are guilty of devoting far too many column inches to the disaster scenarios of a possible hung parliament.  Encouragingly  voters didn't buy into these. Some actively hankered after them.

Even before the polls opened, voters from across London gathered in Parliament Square to express their support for a hung parliament and displeasure with the scare tactics of the (largely) right-wing tabloid press. The organisers of the ‘flashmob’ protest called it the  “biggest rolled-up newspaper sword fight ever” – an off the cuff demonstration organised by word of mouth, through
facebook, the email lists of online civil society groups Avaaz and 38 Degrees and on individual blogs and Twitter pages.

There was a
petition calling for Rupert Murdoch and the British tabloid press to, “...stop spreading fear and trying to manipulate how people vote”. Over 30,000 people signed it.

In particular our newspapers and TV news programmes love to play follow the leader and the prospect of a hung parliament deeply challenges their political affiliations and indeed their corporate identities. What’s the point of being a Tory or a Labour rag if neither party has the leadership? In some ways a coalition government could be the remaking of the media since it hands back to journalists the opportunity to think their own independent thoughts again. If you don’t think that this is vital to democracy, think again.

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