Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Archive for October, 2006

Colourful Cuba (cos your gray ain’t my grey)

Posted by jembendell on October 26, 2006

I sometimes chat with my flatmate about what it was like growing up in the Communist East. We joke about how grey it was. In my books and films it was grey… the buildings, people, all shades of dull depressed and repressed grey. She tells me that books about the West that she read in East Germany showed the West as… also grey! “OK, so it was so grey in the East, that even our pictures of the West were grey!”.

Was an absence of neon lights and bright paints and colourful advertising actually grey? Its amazing how urban our thinking is… nothing is as colourful as nature. Walking through the UN today I saw paintings from an exhibition sponsored by Cuba. The artist from this communist country, Luis Antonio Espinosa Fruto, chose to paint all his pictures in… grey. But hey, they are bright, brilliant, beautiful images. They are all paintings of the natural environment in Cuba (continues below…).

artwork_images_424056915_238119_luis-antonio-espinosa-fruto.jpg

Cuban nature is mentioned in the depths of a report published by WWF earlier this week. The Living Planet Report tells a shocking story of what we are doing to ourselves and our planet… as Frank Dixon said at a talk on Monday, “the science is telling us we are like the meteor that hit the Yucatan and wiped out the dinosaurs, we are the new great exterminator”. We really are behaving on this planet like we have another one to go to.

On page 19, in a section comparing the amount of resources each country is gobbling up in comparison to the social development they have acheived, as indicated by the UN’s Human Development Index, shows that only one country has achieved a level of social development and environmental protection that can be considered “sustainable development”. That country? Grey-painted communist Cuba. The journos seem to have missed that one in their coverage of the report.

This state of affairs should make us ask some serious questions about current forms of economy and capitalism… are they helping us get what we really want? Is the world any more colourful for its shining lights and gaudy adverts, if these help melt the glaciers, dry up the lands, and degrade nature? Is it any more colourful when people run the rat race to souless material excess while others are malnourished and oppressed?

I guess one reason Cuba comes out on top is because the HDI statistics dont place decisive weightings on certain political freedoms. Cuba probably comes out on top environmentally because of the US embargo has encouraged local production of foods for local consumption. Organic market gardening isnt a lifestyle choice for the middle classes wanting some more meaning to their lives, but a basic necessity for many Cubans. Whats the policy conclusion? That everyone needs to be embargoed by the US?

Open borders only work when you’ve got a fair game going on, with ground rules that mean you dont trade away the environment or people as mere ‘externalities’ that can be disregarded. The evidence from the Living Planet Report is more an indictment of the West than it is praise for Cuba. But, well done Cuba for reminding us that our brains are the only grey matter in nature, and its our choice to make them vitally brilliant or deadly dull.

Posted in Counter-Globalization Movement, Funny, Sustainable Development, United Nations, WWF | 2 Comments »

Thank you Jill

Posted by jembendell on October 1, 2006

jill

On Monday 25th, at the start of my first day in the WWF-UK office, the death of WWF-UK’s Director of Programmes, Dr Jill Bowling, was confirmed along with 23 passengers on a helicopter in Nepal.

Jill was the reason I joined WWF. I have mixed feelings about NGOs, given the tendency for big egos to badly manage, sometimes confusing their public purpose and the values from which this arises, with their own status or that of their organisation. But Jill embodied a different approach. In the three times I met her, and few times we discussed on the phone, I found someone who was focused on the imperative of positive change for people and planet. Someone who wanted to support and enable talented and decicated people to achieve more than they could on their own. I was really looking forward to working with and learning from her.

Jill was in Nepal to mark a historic event, which illustrated both the need for and practicality of people living in harmony with nature and with eachother, to gain welfare, wellbeing and meaning from our living planet. “This historic step is an important landmark in the history of biodiversity conservation in the country… the devolution of power to local communities, especially with regard to natural resources and equitable sharing of benefits,” a press statement issued by the WWF Nepal said.

There was a memorial service in the offices of WWF-UK for Jill and Jenn Headley who had also worked at WWF-UK previously and died in the crash. Jill was a trustee of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (www.arcworld.org) and a representative lead the service. To the staff he said of Jill: “you are her memory, you are her future.” Part of Jill’s legacy will be expressed though how we embrace the message of people-planet unity that underlay the important work in Nepal that she was there to celebrate.

This blog was meant to be about my random attempts at understanding things, and where failing that then just musing or laughing. With such sad and shocking news the only option is to seek some learning, some truth, some implication… thankfully Jill’s life is fertile for such lessons and legacy.

The week before, from the airport on her way to Nepal, Jill called me and apologized that she was not going to be in the office on my first day. Those little things speak volumes, don’t they? Thank you Jill.

Why was she there? An historic event: http://www.nepalmountainnews.org/news.php?subaction=showfull&id=1158998430&archive=&start_from=&ucat=1&do=news

WWF book of condolences: http://www.panda.org/news_facts/newsroom/crisis/helicopter_crash_nepal_2006/book_of_condolences/messages/index.cfm

Posted in My Life, NGOs, Spirit?, Sustainable Development, WWF | 2 Comments »