Thursday, December 15, 2011

Canada Sucks

Canada was clearly the bad guy during COP17. Why, because they decided early in the conference to leak their impending withdrawal from the Kyoto protocol. This news overshadowed the stale reality that the worlds' biggest emitters have never been part of Kyoto. But Canada is not helping the situation by not leading by example.

So where did that leave us? The conference was a success because everyone agreed to agree to continue negotiations. Oey vey!

Canada's bailout seems to highlight a deeper more important factor that is being overlooked. Governments and Corporations will never compromise their clients' needs. We are their clients. So as long as we continue to demand a certain level of economic growth, coupled with the comfort of not having to endure change, our governments and the corporations of the world will never come to an agreement on how to adjust their policy and procedures for the good of the environment.

" We must remember that the real threat to democracy is not radicalism but stagnation, inertia and habit" - Wilmot James. We seem to spend our lives resisting and protecting ourselves from radicals, but fail to see that radicals prey on our fear of change. We also forget that we have comfortable and opportunistic lives because of our forefathers' willingness to change. I think the latter is true of anyone in the world who has the freedom to be able to read this.

Earlier this year I popped in an out of the Occupy Wall Street demonstration. I was proud to stand up to everything that was wrong with capitalism, until I looked down and saw a Venti Latte in my one hand and an IPhone in the other...what I hypocrite I am, I thought, as I slunk out of the demonstration.

I invite those of us who point our fingers at governments and corporations for their lack of environmental responsibility to first closely examine our own habits. The real threat to human economic growth is not those radical tree huggers, and the real threat to our environment is not actions of capitalist pigs...the real threat to both growth and our environment is our unwillingness as individuals to change.

Rather then take the approach of "Why should I change if my neighbor won't change"...rather Be the change and perhaps your neighbor will change.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Definition of Climate Change

"The Black Rhino is extinct in West Africa" - a global headline on the eve of COP17. The area north of Durban happens to be one of the few places where the few remaining Black and White Rhino can be found. Can you believe that in our lifetime an animal as big and majestic as a Rhinoceros might disappear from existence. And for what...knife handles and alternative medicine, likely a placebo.
Besides loosing a great wonder of nature, which is fun to look at and perhaps not a very consequential cog in the ecosystem, so why does it matter? And besides, what can most of us non-dagger carriers do about the rhino, besides shooting the poachers which doesn't seem very social.
In the last 30 years global fish stocks have been reduced significantly by over fishing. As an example for every 11 Cod that were in the Atlantic Ocean in 1970, there is 1 now. Yikes...I eat fish. If we do some rough math that means no more Cod to eat in a few years.
Everytime we eat meat, we have taken away food from 7 people...i.e. The food it took to feed the cow. Aren't their millions starving, or is that billions?
To produce a bottle of water involves using 3-7 bottles of water depending on the company. Fiji Water is 7. That's like taking a 10 minute shower and then leaving it running for another hour. Isn't water our most precious resource? I'm sure we would all choose a bucket of water over a bar of gold when the survival chips are down
So why does all of this matter since our lives are comfortable and these are other peoples problems...yes, our children's problems, and maybe our problems in a few years. Our actions as consumers - eating, driving, wearing, reading, spending money...- dictate how companies and governments decide to use and abuse the Earth's natural resources. It's comforting to know that they put our "wants" ahead of the environment...or is it? So clearly we have the power to help save species, preserve resources and save human lives.
The solution is temperance. If we all thought through every act of consumption we performed and adjusted accordingly so as not to be excessive. Do I really need a 6 cylinder car or can I make do with a 4, is as important an analysis and choice, as why I really need to get that new pair of jeans or drink that extra beer(like beef, alcohol also takes a lot off food off people's tables).
But how do we have time for this level of consciousness. Since it will involve changes to our routine as well time spent understanding what exactly our impact might be in our various walks of life. This is all seems very time consuming.
In the U.S. the average person watches 4 hours of TV per night! Im sure the rest of the TV watching world is not far behind. How about reading novels and newspapers. How about political discourse. There is plenty of time in these typical activities that could be reassigned to making us better consumers, and who knows, could be more fulfilling than watching NCIS repeats.
The term Climate Change is very controversial and leads to multinational gridlock on how to deal with it. Part of the problem seems to be the average person's understanding of what it means. The science reports of climate change read like a quantum mechanics definition...brain freeze material.
Climate change is better defined by the Rhino situation. Every decision we make and every action that we take that effects the natural world results in climate change. When we overdo it, then climate change becomes detrimental to the future (not too distant) of life as we know it. To prevent climate change requires grassroots temperance and then what scientists and politicians have to say wont matter. Why wait for laws to determine how we live our lives. Let's re-mould our own lifestyles so that they are in harmony with that of the rhino and the rest of the natural world. Our freedom gives us that power.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Spa

The popping bubbles in my brain started to subside, as did a few seconds of mind numbness. Late night in a night club? No, this was the climax of my Port St. Johns Spa experience.

The white mud came first, which must cover the entire body. A short drive into the bush brought us to a small village and the mouth of a cave. To get the white mud one must strip down as far as comfortable and then walk into a damp dark cave and start mining the walls for a small ball of the precious mud. A full self application of the mud feels the skin starting to tighten. Then it's up a cliff using the roots of an enchanted looking tree to the bubbling sulfur pool for a second layer of black mud. First though we stop in front of a hole in the ground which has a long line of buckets waiting in front of it...waiting for the precious water within. We all get to take a sip before we jump into to sulfur pool. This is healing water but doesn't have the sweet taste one might expect from the fountain of youth...this is Fear Factor material. Yuck. Feel better??? I've never felt worse. After some black mud and scrambling down the tree, another hole confronts. No drinking from this one. "Release all your air, put your nose right here and inhale".... Tiiinnny bbuubbles...

The latter does as promised and clears yours sinuses . It's also supposed to help prevent arthritis. No mention of any possible brain cell depletion.

We all jumped back into the truck to go and have a nice salt rinse in the sea. Off to 2nd beach, which didn't necessarily mean the excitement was over.

Sharks typically kill about 6 people per year in the entire world. This beach has had 6 fatalities in the last 3 years. 4 lifeguards and 2 surfers. "But not to worry they only attack past the breakers".

If you are still reading, you should stop here if you don't want to hear the gory details. Here is a summary of my Q&A of a guy who was present for one of the past attacks.

It had been 8 weeks since the last attack when he(Jim) and 17 others decided to paddle out. Safety in numbers and enough time had past for some bravado to creep back in. A few hours later most had had enough and 4 were left. He had just finished riding a wave and saw that everyone on the beach were anxiously looking and pointing out to sea. One of remaining surfers had been attacked and was frantically paddling for the beach. Jim helped him in, but by the time they reached the beach he had bled to death. The shark had first grabbed his ankle then come back and bitten the top of his leg.

As scary as this is to hear this from a distance, one fact is probably scarier. These attacks are all by sharks that are only about 4 feet long. Sort of small. Not the apartment buildings made famous by Peter Benchley.

This is a gloomy story to end a day that started with a trail run among zebras and monkeys, followed by the adventure of a spa au naturale. But at the same time it's all part of life in a place called the Wild Coast. Drinks on the deck under the banana trees overlooking 2nd beach.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The New World

"We must be the change we want to see in the world" - Gandhi. These profound words are by a man who cut his teeth in Durban, South Africa, and seem appropriate for the next global climate change conference which is being held in Durban in a few weeks.

It is interesting to observe the state of climate consciousness in the area holding such an important meeting of minds. Obviously, there is a clear escalation of climate change related topics and stories in South African papers leading up to this event...sort of like how people all of a sudden become Curling fans during the winter Olympics. The question however is what is the grassroots interest in Climate Change.

To find out I headed south of Durban to a rural area in the Eastern Cape, known as Pondoland. Visually, this one of the most beautiful areas of South Africa with its rolling green hills, one might mistake it for the Scottish highlands. Adding in some thick jungle along the river valleys where one might expect to run into fairies, trolls and perhaps a hobbit. This area is known as the wild coast because of its rough seas which are renowned for swallowing ships, but the term is quite apt for the whole package. Within this beautiful land live the Pondo people who are a tribe within the Xhosa nation. You would think that these people have it made considering the land they live in which sounds like its full of milk and honey. Well they sort of do, but just like the rest of us they have their struggles.

And those include a very passionate defense of their land. In the 1960s they revolted against an apartheid law, not so much because of human rights, but more so the resulting over population would cause soil erosion and over grazing. They won that battle. More recently they won another battle, which was to prevent an Australian company from mining titanium in the area. The latest battle to prevent the construction of a toll highway through the middle of their land is being waged in the shadow of the climate conference. This battle is being lost, but is not over.

The Pondo understand well the sensitive balance between human activity and nature's survival. They will stop at nothing to prevent outsiders from tipping that balance. But they also realize that their own activities must be kept in check. They realize that using wood for cooking fires is not sustainable for the local forests. Since they live off the grid, and as they patiently wait for the national electricity provider to plug them in, they realize that alternative power sources might be the best way to go, and they are willing to pay. The latter is staggering since they make they make little to no money.

So, in the midst of corporate South Africa scrambling to show how Eco friendly they are as the magnifying glass of the world descends on Durban, there is a group of people who have not lost touch with nature. This is inspirational, and hopefully COP17 will look a few hundred kilometers beyond their conference rooms for answers.

The serendipity in this world never ceases to amaze me

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Perfect Thon

Waking up 2.5 hours before sunrise is needed so that you may get to the finish line and catch the bus 42km out of town to the start of the Buffs Marathon. East London is a small port city in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. But as small and lazy as it may seem it often seems like a hive of activity and the road heading out of town early on this Saturday morning was no exception. The outskirts of town came quickly and soon the bus was rolling through the pitch black, with only headlights to be seen. After what seemed like a very long 42km, the bus came to a stop and everyone filed out on to the side of the road. No barriers stopping traffic, no marshals directing the traffic. Just 850 people scattered along the side of the road waiting for the 5.30 start. Then without prompt, as if it had been rehearsed, the crowd pushed together and shuffled forward stopping to form an barrier that not even the cars and trucks would brave. Out of no-where, an inflatable, "Old Mutual" starting arch rose up across the road, and a mega phone voice announced - "it's erection"...the starting instructions, and the race was off.

Into the night, but not for long. The road ran east and into a spectacular sunrise, which lit up the rolling hills of countryside that was to be the back drop for most of this run. A cool summer morning with not much breeze(an added treat for an area where windless is the exception). Already, after about 10km, this was showing all the signs of being a perfect marathon, and did not disappoint. So why?

Basically because the simplicity of the race's infrastructure, making the joy of long distance running the core focus. Nothing was a big deal, one just got to a point on the side of the road and started running home. No clocks, little blocks dropped on the side of the road showed the km's pass by, and best of all - the water stops gave out water in mini sealed packets - da? genius! awesome! Who wants to be handed a cup of water to sip - road races are not cocktail partys. But small packets, you can bite off an edge and peacefully sip as you run...or even carry for a while.

Things get a bit tricky as the race started to wind through town, but nothing a road runner cant handle. After dodging a bit a traffic, running through a couple of neighborhoods up a couple of nice little climbs, the finish seems to come as quickly as the start and with a 5.30 start, there is plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the day.

Here is to travel to places off the path beaten by tourists! To experience a culture before it has been artificially enhanced makes for a rich experience, and why not make that trip targeting a local event just to get things started.

The rest of that day whizzed by, starting with a hearty stuffed pancake and cappuccino overlooking the water. Once again, as quiet and lazy as this town may seem from a distance - there is always a lot going on, especially when it comes to outdoor activity. Just in front of cafe, the handful of patron's toggled their attention from the rubber dingy race where the helmeted crew were launching their boats over shoulder height waves at break-neck speeds; and a fisherman landing 6 foot Ragged Tooth Shark from the rocks across the road....needless to say a swim in the tidal pool seemed like the best option.

Sundowners, an escargot starter, and a big plate of Kingklip ended the day just as it started - with a big satisfied smile!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Open letter to U2

Hi Guys,

I was one of 70,000 people privileged to see you perform in the Mother City on Friday night. You were amazing...inspiring. Like the feeling of pouring and drinking a glass of water when you are really thirsty, you held me in that selfless present for the entire time you were on stage. All my anxieties, fears, and judgments were replaced with a warm feeling of happiness, and a singularity with the energy radiated by you and everyone else in the stadium. I'm sure I was one of many, if not all people that night who had the same experience

As I drifted out into the night, I wondered if your music might have that effect on so many privileged people, imagine what effect it may have on those who have lost hope. Imagine playing in front of 70,000 people who live on $2 per day - how that experience might inspire them.

I look forward to our next encounter.

P.S. Nice touch having the big, bright, round moon perched above your heads all night.

Footnote - the glass of water analogy is not my material

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Egyptian women deserve their freedom...also

This article shook my memory back to the 3 weeks that I spent in Egypt, and what stands out the most is hour poorly men treat the women. Interestingly enough, it also a time of one of my fondest memories which was my friend Caroline backhanding a teenage boy who attempted to fondle her as we walked the streets of Luxor.

Lara Logan is tough, and has always put herself in the line of fire, but this attack is senseless, cowardly, and representative of a nation whose mens' attitude and antics should be closely scrutinized as Egypt has an opportunity to build a productive future.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mubs down...Mugs to go

Common people of Zimbabwe, start the revolution. Take note of what your fellow Africans from the North have accomplished. You are a beautiful people who live in a beautiful country and you deserve the best thing that life has to offer - freedom.

Easy for me to say this from a distance. But people in countries like Egypt and Zimbabwe live a constricted existence because the powers that be inject fear into hearts and minds. There's fear by those who have nothing and are afraid to speak out and a more effective fear is that of the supporters - support that is purchased by providing to just enough people. As I watched the Egyptian situation manifest and as I've seen in Zimbabwe, I've always wondered why there are pro-bad leader supporters and as my father says, "When you and your family are totally dependent for your life and livelihood on someone like Mugabe, you'll do anything to keep him in power". There you have it. Nevertheless, revolution is in the air and we can only hope that the people of Zimbabwe take back what is theirs.

As per the prior blog, having spent time there a few weeks, ago I was in awe of what an amazing country Zimbabwe is. Travelers from close and far, 5 star and backpacker, active and passive, would all do well to visit a country that for all the wrong and unfortunate reasons has maintained an air of the past - a rare find in this day and age.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lisa's Safari

When taking a guided tour, the trust and confidence you put in the guide can be a matter of life and death or just the matter of having a better time. Sometimes it is assumed and never questioned – like tandem ski diving. Sometimes is very easy to question, like when someone straps and clips a bungee cord and harness to your body. But no time has the decision to trust a guide been more obvious and more critical then canoeing down the Zambezi River. Soon after putting in and giving the first hippos’ a nice wide birth, an elephant was spotted eating on the bank. What do you say if the guide asks if you want to get a closer look – Yes, or course, how cool! not thinking what that really means. Next thing I know the bow of the canoe is slightly beached and pointed at an ear flapping young bull, which is facing us from a mere 30 feet away (the top of an elephants head is about 12 feet above the ground) . If that isn’t enough to get the adrenaline pumping, then the knowledge that a bloat of hippos is snorting and grunting 20 feet to our rear and left, is heart-stopping material. And right on key, cry of a fish eagle pierced the ear – a pure African moment.

It was then that I had to make the hard decision to trust and follow our guide without hesitation, because…hippos kill and as the guide said “ the most dangerous hippo is one you cant see”. So with that we reverse paddled away from the bank, swung around and made a mad dash through a gap in the bloat, to an island to set up camp for the night – all of which was directed by Champion – our guide, who seemed to have a lot of faith in our paddling capabilities!

The 3-day paddle safari from Kariba to Churundu (Zimbabwe), does not give one the opportunity to see a lot of different animals, but it certainly allows a very intimate interaction with Africa in its most undisturbed form. No lodges, no fences, no toilets, and very few people. The only people we saw, were the very occasional Zambian fisherman, on dugouts tending to their nets. One has to respect the continuity of life as it exists, and trying to interrupt that continuity for ones own convenience of comfort, can be at your peril. Embracing it became very spiritual.

I started this story towards the end for no apparent reason. There is a lot more to tell. My sister and my arrival in Kariba, was towards the end of a very rich 3 week adventure in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

After four days in Cape Town, kicked off by New Years Eve southern hemisphere style, we headed for the town of Port Edward which sits on the Northern border of the South Africa’s Wild Coast. From Port Edward we headed south by foot on the heels of our guide – Nonhle. For 3 days we were treated to an amazing array of lush rolling hills and untamed coastline, but what I thought was the most interesting was hearing about life in this area.

Pondoland is the northeast most corner of the Eastern Cape, and his home to the Pondo people who are a smaller group within the bigger Xhosa speaking tribe. Pondo people seem to be a very proud group of people, and have done a really good job of maintaining a strong sense of community in a country and world that is easily distracted by material net worth. This part of South Africa is often described as the poorest part of the country – an accusation to which Pondo people take offense, and wonder what measure is being used for this judgement. They certainly don’t have restaurants, gyms, cars galore, sprawling suburbs, but seem to be happy and content with the life they live…I haven’t met many communities, if any, where that is the case – everyone always seems to want more. Material life aside, the one thing that really struck me was the lack of crime and violence in this area. At one point as we walked along our paths were to cross paths with a group of older teenage boys, which was a cause for concern for me, and my defensive adrenalin surged a bit. But we passed close by and there was a friendly Xhosa greeting between them and Nonhle. I immediately felt guilty for my profiling. As if sensing so, Nonchle went on to tell us that if we had run into a group like that anywhere else in the country, “there would have been trouble”.

Not being a sociologist, I can only believe Nonchle, whose theory is that Pondoland has rejected the capitalist influence that has swept across the country and the result is that a strong sense of family, respect, and self-dependence remains. Is it the last vestige of pure Ubuntu is this part of the world? Maybe, but women, don’t have much say in the matter except they do get to approve of their husband’s next wife.

After a spending the good part of the last 12 months in Africa, I can’t help but think as Captain Kirk would say, that this continent is the final frontier. I feel like I deserve to take credit for that analogy, but I see that it appears to be written everywhere, especially in the business sections. The opportunities are endless for entrepreneurs and global companies alike. The cities are breaking at the seams. There is land a plenty for those who want to check out of the chaos of western civilization. But with all this being said, final frontiers are usually a little dangerous, and yet vulnerable at the same time. This dichotomy is probably the reason that everyone – even those who live in the most upscale neighborhoods, seem to be a little bit on edge. The poor need to do whatever it takes to get their next meal, which includes targeting the rich. The rich in turn must protect their possessions and well-being. This is a vicious circle, which is too big and moves too quickly to be regulated by law alone.