Wednesday 31 August 2011

Wilful Blindness or a Wilful Criminal Act? What will we bequeath to our children's children?

In the last week of August 2011 more than 2,000 people travelled to Washington DC to carry out a 2 week protest from August 20 through September 3, to urge President Obama to deny the permit for a 1,700 mile pipeline which would transport Canadian Tar Sands oil from Alberta right through the US heartland to Gulf Coast refineries and ports.
Despite this being a peaceful protest many of the citizens protesting have been arrested for civil disobedience, and still they come to make their views known.

Travel north to where the mighty rivers Athabasca, Smoky, Peace, Chinchaga and Hay, drain north and east from the Rocky Mountains into the Arctic Ocean and you will find yourself in the Boreal Forest; a region comprising almost half of Alberta. The landscape is heavily forested and home to a great diversity of vegetation and wildlife including the arctic grayling, river otter and black-throated green warbler and endangered species such as the whooping crane and the woodland caribou.
The boreal forest has remained wilderness for much of this century however oil sands cover 140,000 sq km of this forest - just over one fifth of the province of Alberta; an area larger than England UK. Imagine driving the length and breadth of England; that is the area of tar sands, 60% of which has been leased for extraction though not all of that is currently being mined.

More than 1,400 known pollutants are emitted by oil sands operations taking the oil sands industry anywhere from third to twelfth place—depending on the pollutant—among all Canadian industrial sources for pollution.

Massive tailings ponds associated with surface mining contain numerous toxic contaminants that can leach at low concentrations through dams and dikes. Volatile contaminants can be transported by air, and the Royal Society of Canada panel, having reviewed reams of publicly available information on factors such as health status, air and water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, land disturbance, and energy and water consumption, concluded that "for Canada and Alberta, the oil sands industry involves major environmental issues on many fronts which must be addressed as a high priority"

The operation has already had many breaches of safety including numerous spills from processing plants and pipelines, 23 fires and explosions at facilities, fires on wastewater ponds and the deaths of more than 2,000 waterfowl that landed on various tailings ponds.

Many toxins, (such as PACs, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, selenium, and zinc,) occur at higher concentrations downstream of oil sands operations than upstream and some of these are elevated enough to kill fish as far away as Lake Athabasca.

Making liquid fuels from oil sands requires energy for steam injection and refining. This process generates two to four times the amount of greenhouse gases per barrel of final product as the production of conventional oil. If combustion of the final products is included, the so-called "Well to Wheels" approach, then oil sands extraction, upgrade and use emits 10 to 45% more greenhouse gases than conventional crude

The area under lease for mining was once awarded a "Special Places" designation by the Canadian Government because of it's great natural beauty. Mining entails clearing it of forest and vegetation and of the wildlife who rely on this habitat.

This has been called "the most environmentally destructive project on earth" and yet this is but one of the profoundly destructive and dangerous projects that has been sanctioned by governments in the name of commercial enterprise. Others commercial projects that cause massive and often irreparable damage to the complex ecosystems that support life on this planet include Arctic or deepwater drilling; deepwater mining; bauxite mining and deforestation of the Amazon.

Margaret Heffernan used the term "Wilful Blindness" in her book of the same name. Sticking our heads in the sand (no pun intended) and pretending that this massive and dangerous destruction of the very ecosystems that sustain us is necessary in order to maintain our energy supplies is indeed wilful blindness.

Polly Higgins, lawyer and award winning author believes that the law created this mess by making it a legal requirement that boards of listed companies deliver shareholder profit. She states that the law must also fix this and has put a proposal to the United Nations to protect the earth by making it a criminal offence to cause such radical destruction. Under a new international and national law onEcocide business leaders and heads of state would become personally liable for the destruction caused to the environment.

This proposed law will be tested in the UK courts at the Supreme Court in London on 30th September 2011 when a mock trial will take place.

Michael Mansfield QC, the prosecuting barrister, and Nigel Lickley QC, the defence barrister together with supporting legal teams, will lead the case for and against a fictional Mr X, CEO of a major corporation. Before the case is heard, legal argument will be put as to whether Ecocide and the Earth Right to Life should be applied to the charge against Mr X. Mr X will be played by an actor and has been charged with a number of ecocides - which one will be tried will be determined on the day. It could be:

Deforestation of the Amazon
Arctic drilling
Fracking for shale gas in Nigeria
Major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
Bauxite mining of the Niyamgiri mountain
Unconventional tar sands extraction in Canada
Deep sea mining of the Central and Eastern Manus Basin

The trial will examine how the crime of Ecocide protects the Earth Right to Life and will be tried as though the proposed crime of Ecocide has been adopted by the UN. What will happen is not pre-scripted; it is ultimately for the jury to determine whether the crime of Ecocide is made out and whether the Earth Right to Life is breached.

It will be an interesting day which will be open to the public and live streamed onto the internet and will open debate and discussion on this whole subject.

We are crowdfunding this event. Please go to to help fund this.

Fiona Hayes
07590 425621

Monday 28 March 2011

Melting Ice-caps and Population Displacement

On March 8th 2011 NASA reported that the ice caps are melting at a faster rate than has been modelled by science and that by 2050 (just 39 years from now) the sea level will have risen by 12.5 inches.

The authors caution that considerable uncertainties remain in estimating future ice loss acceleration. However they also state that the rate of ice loss has been greater year on year for the past 18 years.

According to Google this means that by 2050 there will be 916,272 displaced people in the UK alone.
4,286,286 displaced in Europe.
10,653,789 in Asia.
A total of 29,982,661 displaced people across the world.

Look at the figures on the globalfloodmap for Japan. They suggest 2,158,444. The recent Earthquake and Tsunami is has caused an estimated 500,000 to be displaced. The predicted rise in sea level will cause 4.3 times as many people in Japan to loose their homes as the Tsunami did.

Where will all these people go?
29,082,661 people across the world.

Where will they all go? What are we doing globally to prevent disaster on an epic scale; to plan for where people will go and how they will be moved out of their current homes and what will happen to them financially as they loose their homes and possibly their jobs.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Worshipping at the altar of share-prices- like it or not- we all do!

I have been deeply moved over the last couple of weeks by the events reported from the Arab World and from Japan.

Japan was interesting in that it initially had no effect on me. I watched the news, the videos of events unfolding as an intellectual exercise, finding myself saying to myself, “that is awful!” but not ‘feeling’ anything.
My conditioning said to me “you are supposed to think this is terrible” so a voice in my head said “terrible” but I felt no empathy!

Then I picked up via facebook an incredible letter from the rubble of Sendai and I began to feel.

Now the emotions as I watched the newsreels from Japan, and those of the Libyan conflict were overwhelming; nothing else in life seemed relevant.
My business meeting had little meaning, price of Diesel, little meaning; my shopping spree, little meaning, my car into the garage for repair, little meaning: but what did hold meaning as I struggled with my churning emotions was checking for wildlife in the pond in the garden; watching the bees start to hum around the tulips, filling up the bird feeder and watching the robin and Blue Tits visit, placing my palm on my daughters swollen belly and feeling my unborn grandchild kicking.

There was talk on the radio of Japan’s stock exchange collapsing because of the nuclear threat. Then talk of inward investment into Japan being a good stock option because they have to rebuild. The markets continue to bounce around at the whim of a comment that sets the traders off and running to one cliff edge and then the other like the proverbial lemmings and businesses rush around as if they, and they alone hold importance; hold value.

So holding in contrast the stark life and death news reports that are hitting our awareness; the Middle Eastern conflicts, the recent floods in Australia, the earthquake in New Zealand, the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown threat in Japan, the icecaps melting far more rapidly than was expected; all of this held in contrast with the rapid and constant fluctuations of the financial markets, the stocks and shares games that people play is a strangely dreamlike state; and yet we rush around in our day to day world of business as if the markets hold more importance than any of these world events; and rightly so for indeed they do.

That rush around in business sucks you in, creates a feeling of importance; of reality; becoming ever more real as the treadmill of buy and buy of must have consumer products, must have financial products, must have, must have feeds the commute and the starting early and working late, slaves to the god called finance, the god called "share index". Slaves to our pension fund invested in futures, invested in oil; ensuring the banks that are too big to fail.

Whoever we are, whether in the corporate world or not share index rules our world and rules our lives. We run around, not even recognising the worship of this god and missing the “true” value of our lives. Worse, we impose this god on everything, on people, on land, on the sea; a god universally worshipped. A god made from a bunch of numbers in a computer that a very small number of people manipulate casino style. The economy and the markets should be there to serve Life, instead we live our lives in service of and ruled by the economy.

For a moment only; the eerie quiet that people report hit Japan stopped the god from ruling their individual least for one brief moment sanity returned. It has taken a disaster of such magnitude to briefly halt the worshipping.

Fiona Hayes


Monday 21 February 2011

Natural Capital and the Bubble of Denial

The World Bank has defined natural capital as ‘a stock of natural resources - such as land, water and minerals - used for production’. Wikipedia defines it as ‘the stock of the natural ecosystems that yields a flow of valuable ecosystem goods into the future’.

Natural capital is vital to the survival of mankind, and therefore must be sustained and supported. The Western economic model on which the majority of people depend is not designed to take into account the effects it is having on ecosystems and biodiversity. Yet it is these ecosystems that provide the minerals, water, plants, trees, soil, animals and air that sustain us all.

In his book A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen equates our denial of the unraveling ecological structure of the world with a family that is abused by the father, who lives in complete denial that he is doing anything wrong. It is a powerful analogy and one that we should hold on to.

When we are making decisions about our businesses, we think about many things including the implications on our financial capital, the effect on our human capital, products or services, and maybe the community around us. But do we consciously think about the effect of our decisions on the natural capital of the Earth? How conscious are we of the importance of our decision-making to the long-term needs of our natural capital? We seem to struggle with – and all but ignore – any solution that doesn’t meet our immediate needs.

The Hamilton Group and other similar organisations around the world are working to create awareness of the unthinking abuse of our ecosystems in the pursuit of economic growth and how we can change this pattern of behavior. Much of mankind is living in an unconscious bubble of denial where the only thing that really matters is our own happiness and survival. Think honestly about our day-to-day life. What do we think about? Our family, our friends, how much money we have, where we are going on holiday, our work load, when we should change our car, our ambitions, our shopping, what we have to do next. All these are important to our lives within our comfortable society. But outside that comfortable bubble, there is an ecosystem that allows us to live and breathe on which we depend for our existence and it’s struggling to survive. If we don’t become consciously aware of this and our personal and collective contribution to its ill-health, then we will cut off our oxygen of survival and suffocate. It’s that simple and that important.

There is so much more to become conscious of in deciding how we live and how we manage our lives. And it isn’t easy. But we have to become more conscious of our responsibilities to the Earth. We need to be aware of where our food comes from and how it is produced; where our clothes comes from and under what conditions they were manufactured and take responsibility for our choices. When we make decisions at work or in our daily lives, we must be conscious of the effect they are having outside the bubble we live and work in.

Why is it so important to break out of this bubble of denial and think big and wide? Because if we don’t do it, mankind as a species is unlikely to survive. But the exciting thing is that change is happening. Our bubble of denial is quietly being infiltrated by different ways of thinking. Businesses and organisations are thinking about sustainability. Cradle to cradle thinking is penetrating boardrooms. Harvard’s management Tip of the Day for January 24th 2011 includes the following: “In the past two decades, many corporations have made strides in shedding their reputations as polluters, exploiters, and gluttons. But there is still a long way to go until doing good is an accepted norm for successful businesses. How can you help your company get there?” Time magazine’s article dated 21 February 2011 called Paying for Nature ends with “But in a world with a growing population and demand for resources, smart companies will learn to value ecosystem services, not just exploit them. It's not a choice to play a zero-sum game anymore. The economy and the environment are interdependent. And they're united by one color: green.”

Environmental responsibility and corporate success aren't always opposed.
In 2007, Goldman Sachs released a landmark report showing that companies that were considered leaders in environmental, social and governance policies tended to outperform the general stock market and their peers. Measurement of social impact is becoming a big business in itself. But the decision to engage with environmental degradation caused by business is being driven by economic necessity and not because the survival of mankind and the species we share the planet with, depends on it. Many businesses and organisations are still unaware, or in a state of denial that in the complex and chaotic world we have created, the linear thinking that worked for the industrial revolution and the economy that emerged from it, will no longer work. A step-change is needed that revisits basic assumptions. We need to adapt and shift beyond incremental improvements. It is no longer sufficient to do a little less bad. We need to effect a paradigm shift away from a purely anthropocentric-based worldview, acknowledge our inter-connectedness with the world’s ecosystems and value and bolster them for our mutual benefit.

Mankind is facing a perfect storm of global warming, peak oil, population growth, food and water security, revolution, changing global power structures, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation. The platform that supports our businesses, our organisations and our communities is burning. If we stay in our bubble of denial, we face almost incomprehensible dangers that will be forced upon us. Alternatively, we can break out of it, move onto a new platform and take full responsibility for all our actions and change the way we think, work and play. Those changes might just enable us to return to understanding the interconnectedness of our planet and that every species has to be interdependent to survive.

Breaking the bubble of denial by stepping off our burning platform into the unknown needs bravery. We should acknowledge and celebrate the complexity that needs to be faced. Building the path as we travel will be a great adventure.

The Hamilton Group is a dynamic network of individuals, organisations and businesses united by the Group Ethos: We as individuals, organisations, communities and societies depend on and are an integral part of the natural capital that sustains us all. By ensuring that in all our actions we sustain, care for and balance the diverse needs of people and the biodiversity and ecology of the Earth, we will enable a happier, more just, equal, sustainable and integrated world.

We are working to bring the issues of the world to the forefront of decision-making. Not an easy task. But if you are interested in joining us, finding out more or would like us to work with you, we’d love to find out more about you.

Simon Hamilton

Copyright: The Hamilton Group - Inspiring and co-creating an integrated world
February 2011