Great news! The Majkhali village homestay mothers’ group, the Jagrati Swayam Sahayta Group, has won the ICIMOD Mountain Prize 2020. (www.icimod.org/mountainprize)
This is a really a great honour for everyone involved. This award really rewards the tremendous effort and achievements of the women of Majkhali and can be held up as a beacon to other villages in Uttarakhand.
Building connections, sharing a sustainable way of life. The Jagrati Swayam Sahayta Group is a women self-help group based in village of Majkhali, district Almora, Uttarakhand, India. The women organized themselves into a group in 2011 in order to collaborate with the Foundation for Contemplation of Nature, Majkhali and invite students to experience life in the village.
The idea was simple; to offer residential courses on Resilient Leadership in the Himalayas to university students from all over the world, so that students can experience first-hand how a traditional lifestyle is a holistic skillset and mindset that can inform all aspects of modern life.
Since 2011, the group and the foundation has offered more than 30 2-week long immersive courses to over 500 students from across the world. Since 2018 the course has been recognised as a semester credit course by the School of Sustainability Studies, Western Colorado University.
The course has been taken by many groups of students, mostly from the United States, including Princeton University, Pittsburgh University, Western Colorado University, Nanda Devi Outdoor Leadership School, Where There be Dragons, Realms of Inquiry, Lakeside School, and Menlo School.
A host family house in the village.
Sustainable mountain development and resilience building The place-based learning modules of the course are built on 3 pillars of sustainability: Dignity of Physical Work, Interdependence and Interconnectedness. These pillars emphasize ways of constructing society that are in harmony with nature, community and self-cultivating inner and outer resilience.
Together with the villagers, the students have raised awareness around the issues of waste disposal, environmental health and energy efficiency, gender, education, forestry management and the benefits of an organic and zero-waste lifestyle.
Seeing the passion and engagement from the students who visit the village has given the residents a fresh perspective on the value of their natural and cultural heritage. They feel very motivated to connect with their landscape and cultural heritage and explore opportunities within the village that will ensure that their traditions and knowledge are sustained while they enrich their life and livelihoods.
Transformative change The program has created opportunities for women who didn’t believe that they added much economic value to their household. Through the collaboration the women understand how their tremendous contribution as primary care givers and holders of traditional knowledge crossing all aspects of village life is at the core of their survival. As well as being homemakers the women are farmers, physically engaging in over 90% of all agrarian tasks.
The group has given recognition to their skills and demonstrated how their culture and food traditions are intrinsic to maintaining balance with the environment. It has increased their self-respect, empowered them to communicate their knowleddge and engage their menfolk, and demonstrated the importance of engaging women as decision makers not only in the family but in the broader regional community and society.
The visiting students have also demonstrated a transformation in their world view and attitude to life, moving from seeing rural farming families as poverty stricken, illiterate and helpless to understanding the depth of knowledge and culture in village life and its relevance for developing sustainable thinking.
It’s through this cultural exchange that the students learn hands-on skills and understand the efficiency of a holistic and integrated perspective to natural resource management on one hand and the balance of emotional values and happiness through simplicity on the other.
9 households and 40 members have benefited from the project over the course of 10 years. The group has collectively earned over 20 lakh rupees enabling the women to contribute towards their children’s education, their family’s health and develop better housing facilities in the village.
Gender and social inclusivity The project has also raised awareness amongst local people about the importance of gender equity for the health of society moving forward. Villages in India have a deep-rooted caste system and gender bias. Women are considered inferior to men and certain castes are looked down upon. Despite holding the knowledge and effectively running village life and being responsible for the health and sustenance of the whole community, women are traditionally excluded from decision making. And this does t stop at the home, it extends to local administrations, banking, local government, and even NGOs. As well as the gender divide, dominant castes also often avoid any interaction with people from other castes, even refusing to eat food cooked by them.
This programme has broken these deep-rooted hierarchies and created an inclusive space where the students and villagers work, eat and celebrate together, irrespective of their gender, caste, religion or age. Students from the western universities challenge the local youth when the local girls are performing all the work! The villagers are slowly incorporating equality into every aspect of their lives. Men have started to see value of their women folk and even start to participate in tasks and projects connected to farming which were earlier thought to be only for women.
Through this the home stay program, the women have become financially independent and self-reliant. They have brought an additional income which usually came from men being forced to leave the village to work in the cities. They not only managed to get people from outside to take interest in their traditions and environment, but also increased awareness with the residents of Majkhali. Majkhali is now a much more inclusive, equitable and aware space. A vibrant and welcoming space.
The proof of success is in the farewells between host mums and students- not a dry eye in sight!
Sound: Podcast opens with recording of Orang Asli in Malaysia playing a nose flute
Welcome to Nordic By Nature, a podcast on ecology today inspired by the Norwegian Philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the term Deep Ecology.
In this episode ON GOOD COUNTRIES, you will hear from Simon Anholt, an internationally renowned policy advisor who has helped over 50 nations use the Good Country Equation for education and development.
Over the course of his long and colourful career, Simon’s ultimate aim was to help increase the type of international cooperation that can solve the challenges of globalisation; from climate change, pandemics, and extremism, to slavery, war, poverty and inequality.
His core message to world leaders is simple; do good and good will come to you; change the way nations behave because our survival depends on it.
Simon’s latest book, The Good Country Equation: How We Can Repair the World in One Generation is full of amusing and sometimes surreal anecdotes from his years of travelling the far-flung places of the word.
Opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in Valletta, Malta.
Sound: Ambient sound/music intro fades to Skype ringing
Simon Anholt Voice: Hi, my name is Simon Anholt.
I’m in my study at home and I’m in the middle of the countryside, so out of the windows I can see nothing but trees at the moment, which is really nice….just kind of quite far away from anybody else, which is very nice.
And what am I? Well, I normally call myself a policy adviser because my day job is advising governments on policy.
A policy is one of those words that can mean all kinds of stuff. Basically, what I do is I advise governments on how they should behave and particularly towards other governments and the people of other countries and the international institutions.
So, I’m not really very interested in what governments ‘say.’ I’m not interested in messaging. I think that’s all a bit boring and shallow.
What I’m interested in is what countries do- and what governments do. So, when I call myself a policy adviser, I suppose that’s what I mean. I advise them on how to behave.
Asking the right questions If I if I had a euro every time a government has come to me with a question that turns out to be the wrong question, I would probably have about 39 euros by now.
The countries are very difficult, very complicated things, and it’s very hard even for the people who are running them to know what the main issues are. And it has happened so often to me during my career that governments have come to me thinking they’ve got one kind of problem and it turns out they’ve got another.
Researching a country as an outsider The first thing I like to do when.. when… I’m working with a country is to try to get to know it as well as I can. I mean, it’s very obvious that as an outsider, I’m never going to be nearly as much of an expert about the country. I’m advising as its own citizens, not if I live there, even for the rest of my life. But then again, that’s not what I claim to be. I don’t claim to be an expert in their country.
What I do claim to be as an expert on the rest of the world in a very general sense. But even so, I do need to try and become as much of an expert as possible, so, I read mainly, and particularly in these days, when travelling is so difficult, reading is even more important, so, I try to read as many books as I possibly can. I normally spend about four or five weeks at the beginning just reading; novels and history books and portraits of the country and listening to music and reading poetry and literature and watching the movies.
And then when I actually go to the country, I spend weeks and weeks going around just meeting as many different people of different sorts and different parts of the country as I possibly can. And gradually a picture begins to build up and it can only ever be a superficial one, but it’s of some value.
EAIE Helsinki Keynote talk, September 2019.
The book; The Good Country Equation Well, I wrote the good country equation because I had to. Otherwise I would have burst. I’ve spent the last 20 or probably more than 20 years going around working with governments and often with presidents and prime ministers and kings and queens in 56 or 57 countries around the world.
And I don’t know whether it’s me or whether it’s just something to do with the job. But every country I go to, something extraordinary always happens. I always have some weird conversation or some weird experience, and it’s happy or funny or dangerous or exciting or potentially life threatening. And for years and years I’ve been doing this job and I come back and everybody I know says, you know, you should really write a book about all this stuff. Nobody will believe a word of it, but you still got to do it. And so eventually, after about 20 years, I thought, I will write this book.
But I wanted to make it primarily autobiographical, not because I want to see myself as the hero or anything like that, but just because I wanted it to be readable. See, I’m very interested in the state of the world and what’s gone wrong with the world, as many of us are.
Everybody in the world should be interested in what’s gone wrong with the world and trying to find out whatever they can about it. So, I thought what I’ll do is I’ll make this a tragic and comical autobiographical travelogue and I’ll write it in colour, if you know what I mean. So, it won’t be a black and white textbook. It’ll be a colour book with stories and places and people and anecdotes and funny things and sad things and frightening things and inspiring things. And then I’ll weave into that the story of how I gradually, country after country after country, began to figure out what really has gone wrong with the world. And then I can start weaving in what I think we ought to do in order to fix it.
As a child…. Now, I don’t know what it is about me, but when I was a kid and I was growing up, I just always assumed that people from other countries were going to be more interesting than people from my own country. And I always assumed also that other people’s countries were going to be more exciting and more beautiful and more interesting than my own country. And I thought this was normal. And gradually, as I grew up, I discovered that it wasn’t normal. And in fact, the older I got, the more uncommon I found it to be. And I’ve discovered that actually an awful lot of people think that people from other countries are going to be less interesting than people from their own country and that other people’s countries are going to be less interesting than their own country. And I don’t judge them in any way because of that. But I realize that we are different. So at the very heart of the book, there is this assumption that being a human being is more interesting than being a Swede or a Brit or a Guatemalan or a Kenyan.
And that the most interesting thing about us is certainly not the fact that we have a passport from a particular country, but that we belong to this extraordinary, remarkable, infuriating species called humanity.
My world view is in many ways a really simple one, in fact, simplicity is a good place to start, because one of the things I say very early on in the book is that over the years I’ve come to revere simplicity. And I don’t mean the kind of simplicity that comes from only seeing the surface of things, which is very, very common these days. What I’m always aiming for is the simplicity that comes from seeing through the surface of things because the surface seems so complicated. But the basic truths underneath are really often very simple and so many of the complex issues that we’re facing today as an international community, Present themselves in a way which is terrifyingly complex, but actually underneath we’ve got to hold onto those simple truths and those simple values.
With government officials in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Two ‘simple’ underlying issues So, what’s wrong with the world? Well, a Good Country Equation. I said it was simple. There are two things wrong with the world. The first one is the way that countries behave, and the second one is the way that people behave. And that may seem absurdly simple, but it is worth stating it. What’s wrong with countries is that they don’t work together enough to resolve the gigantic global challenges that humanity is facing in the 21st century.
You take all of these big challenges, what the United Nations calls the Sustainable Development Goals are attached to these. So, climate change, migration, human rights abuses, conflict, everything from narco trafficking and small arms proliferation right the way up to pandemics. All of these challenges have got one thing in common. They were all caused by human beings. And therefore, they can all be fixed by human beings.
The other thing that they all have in common is that they’re all globalized, they don’t exist in just one country, they are connected through globalization to every country in the world.
And that’s why it’s impossible for any individual country to solve any of them. America can’t fix the economic turmoil. China can’t fix migration. The European Union can’t fix climate change because these issues are too big and too connected. And so it’s not that we don’t know the answers, the solutions to these problems. We do. We know the solutions to all of these problems. We’ve known them for years. But the reason why we don’t implement those solutions is because countries don’t work together to do it. And so we never bring enough resources to bear towards tackling those problems. So when I say that one of the problems in the world is the fact that countries don’t work together, it’s literally just that they don’t work together frequently or thoroughly or sincerely enough to make proper progress against the vast majority of these global challenges. So, we need to change the culture of governance worldwide from one that’s fundamentally competitive to one that’s fundamentally collaborative. And I guess that’s the main theme of the book.
Sound: Mindfulness bell
The role of corporations
I’m really interested in corporations and their role in this debate. It’s certainly true and I do say so in the book, that corporations influence, or perhaps I should say govern the lives of just as many people or nearly as many people as governments do. And we most of us spend most of our working lives in association with corporations.
So the power and the influence they have over human behaviour is in our modern age, almost as much as the power exercised by governments, and the corporations themselves, of course, many of them are bigger than countries, many of them are richer than countries. Many of them are more powerful than countries. So I think that’s probably where the good country argument goes next. What is a good company?
And I know we will talk about the Good Country Index later on, but the idea of a good company index has been up there in my wish list of things I wish I could do if there were only a few more hours in the day- Religions, of course, influence the lives and the values and the behaviours of just as many people as corporations and governments.
I’ve talked mainly about nations because I think they’re the problem, and I have a bit of an issue with the whole idea of nation and nationalism, as many of us do. And again, what I didn’t really have time to do, either in the book or in my career so far, is to start drilling down to the level of smaller communities which are critically important and for very good reasons, more important to people than their nations. I find it easier to feel loyalty towards the village I live in than towards the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is just a construct like most nations.
Outward versus inward mentality. One of the most dangerous ideas in the world at the moment is that there are two species of person, the globalists and the localists. And this is a dangerous idea because with it comes the idea that we should hate each other and that we should mistrust each other and spend all of our time screaming abuse at each other. And this is daft because all human beings, as far as I can tell, are to some degree localists and to some degree globalists. It’s just a question of which degree we’re all both most of the time. And of course, we have to work together.
I mean, I’m I happen to be so busy thinking about global stuff that I don’t spend nearly as much time as I ought to worrying about the problems of the little village I live in.
It’s obvious that we should be collaborating in the same way that young people and adults should be collaborating, in the same way that people from different nationalities should be collaborating. It’s so blindingly obvious.
Yes, I mean, there’s no question that a national image is, for most people, a seamless extension of their self-image. And even if you don’t regard yourself as particularly nationalistic or patriotic or proud or whatever, there is a space in your heart for the thing that is your country and that you’re born in and so we humans have spent so much time and effort and worry over the centuries trying to forcibly instil this idea of national belonging and national identity.
I think we’ve forgotten the original purpose of it. The original purpose of it was to fight wars, and it was instilled in people very, very deeply. The idea that the noblest thing that a young man could do was to sacrifice his life for the fatherland, which is such an obviously ridiculous idea. And that’s why it took so long and so much effort to brainwash people into believing it.
And of course, in order to make it work, they had to brainwash all the women, the mothers and the sisters and the daughters. Also to encourage these young men, I mean, to tell a young man to go himself, get a gun and get himself blown to bits is not so very difficult because young men kind of want that to try and persuade all those much more sensible women to persuade them of the same thing was an altogether harder task. But it’s worked. And nowadays that is very, very deeply ingrained.
I think this is ultimately about human development. When a baby is born, it only really feels loyalty to itself and its need to survive and its mother. And then gradually, that sense of loyalty will extend to the father, if he’s lucky, and to the immediate family and then maybe to the village and then on and on and on. It goes to the nation state where it stops and that’s where it gets stuck. And feeling loyalty to anything bigger than the nation state seems to be a problem for the vast majority of us. And I think that human development has got stuck at the nation state.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with loving your country. I think that’s in many ways quite natural. But loving your country, not loving your nation, to love your nation is to love its army or to love its president. And very often goes with the idea that other people’s nations are inferior or don’t quite deserve to occupy their space on the surface of the planet as much as yours does. And that’s when it starts becoming problematic.
Understanding that we all belong I think it’s absolutely true that the sense of belonging to a nation is fundamentally a very different thing from a sense of belonging to a smaller place, like a like a village or a town or even a city state, for the simple reason that a nation state isn’t actually a thing that exists in the real world. It’s an intellectual construct.
And so us feeling right, this this feeling that we belong to an intellectual construct is part of the modern mindset that detaches us ever more from the reality of nature. I can still remember, and I describe it in the book, the very first time I went up in a plane and I was a geography nerd, I used to read Atlas in bed. And when I looked out of the plane window for the first time and I couldn’t see those thick black lines on the ground dividing one country from another, I was really surprised and disappointed. But it reminds us that this thing called a nation of this thing called a country, it’s an invention. And if you identify yourself as belonging to an invention, then there’s something not quite right there.
Well, I hope that the first thing that people consider about me, if they consider me, is not my nationality, because, you know, like so many of us, I’m a terrific mongrel anyway. So many different races and religions and creeds and nationalities go inside the soup that makes me who I am. And so I find it very, very difficult to identify or associate with any particular country.
My country, the United Kingdom, where I was born, like most countries, has done an enormous amount of absolutely hellish things. And it’s done an enormous amount of really quite creditable things, as have most countries.
With Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria, a Chilean politician who served as President of Chile from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2014 to 2018.
What is a good country?
But the point that I really wanted to make was a slightly different one. People often are a little bit puzzled by this phrase. I keep using a good country and they mean, well, who? And they say, who are you to decide whether a country is good or bad? And the thing that I say is I’m trying to use the word ‘good’, not as the opposite of bad, but good, the opposite of selfish. And a good country is not in any sense a virtuous country. It’s a country very simply that succeeds in harmonizing its responsibilities towards its own people and its own territory, with its responsibilities towards other people and other territories.
And that’s the rule for life on earth in the 21st century. Countries and corporations and universities and villages and all groups of people need to harmonize their domestic and their international responsibilities so that everything they do for their own people and their own slice of territory. Does no harm or preferably even does good to people outside that territory and to places outside that territory.
With President Heinz Fischer of Austria, who was was elected Federal President of Austria in April 2004, and re-elected for a second and final term in 2010.
The most common myth So, one of the biggest challenges I’ve had during my career advising governments is to persuade prove to governments that it is actually possible to be a good country, to harmonize the inside and the outside responsibilities. Because the interesting thing about all of these politicians I’ve worked with is that it doesn’t actually make any difference which party they come from, whether they’re left wing or right wing or turbo jet propulsion unit. I really don’t know that it makes any difference at all where they come from. They all believe the same thing, which is that anything you do that’s good for your own people is going to harm people in other countries. And anything you do that’s good for the planet and the environment is somehow going to curtail your economic growth or harm your own people or harm your own territory. And this seems to be an article of faith that all politicians have absorbed. And it’s absolutely not true.
One of the really lucky things for me about doing the job that I do and working with so many different countries is that I’ve had the opportunity over the years to try out real policies in real countries to see whether it’s possible to harmonize the domestic and international responsibilities. And what I’ve discovered is that not only is it possible, it also makes better policies, it makes more imaginative thinking and imaginative thinking is what we desperately need in the 21st century.
Not only is it possible to do the right thing for your own people and for people in other countries, it actually means that you’ll end up doing better and more interesting things. And somehow we need to get the word out to the politicians that this is possible.
Sound: Short mindfulness bell
Smart policy-making, beyond altruism The thing that I’m really not talking about here is altruism or self-sacrifice. The idea that a country should sacrifice itself for other countries is a daft idea. No country could, would or should ever consider doing such a thing.
That’s going back to this ridiculous Victorian idea of charity, where it’s the it’s the obligation of the wealthy to help the poorer. Well, there’s some truth in that. But it’s not really the main point.
The main point is that we all occupy a space on this earth and therefore we all have an equal responsibility, whatever’s happened in the past to try and fix it as equals moving forward.
And so, when I say to a country, you need to be good, what I don’t mean is that you need to give away all your spare money to poor countries. What I mean is simply that it is in your interest to do this. And I suppose the core component, the surprising component of the Good Country Equation is this remarkable discovery that I made back in 2012, that it is actually directly economically in your interest as a country to assist and support the international community.
And the reason for that is because it’s a two-stage argument, first of all. The overall image, the good name of a country is the thing which more than anything else, drives its success economically. So the countries that have got good, powerful, positive reputations like Sweden, or Switzerland or Canada or whatever, they find it much easier to make money out of trade, tourism, foreign investment and everything else.
They have a much better relationship with the rest of the world and with consumers all around the world. They make more money because they’ve got a better image. The countries that have weak or negative images that nobody’s ever heard of or that associated with war or conflict or trouble of one kind or another, they find it much, much harder to grow economically. It’s harder for them to get trade. It’s harder for them to export their products. It’s harder for them to attract talent and investment and so on and so forth.
So, discovery number one, countries need good images in order to progress and prosper. Discovery, number two; the factor which more than any other determines whether a country has a good image or not is how much it helps the international community. It’s not how successful it is.
The reason why people admire Sweden or Norway, for example, is not because Sweden and Norway have successful social models. It’s because they believe that Norway and Sweden contribute to the world in which they themselves live.
If I live in in Paraguay, I don’t care whether people in Norway are happy because it doesn’t affect me. I don’t live there. I don’t care whether they have good welfare or good health care provisions because it doesn’t benefit me.
What I care about is are these countries making the world a better place for me and my children to live in? So, when I go to bed at night, I think positive thoughts about Norway and Sweden, because I think to myself, they at least I’m glad they’re there. They’re not disturbing the international order. There are other countries, on the other hand, that I worry about as I go to bed at night because they are disturbing the international order.
Well, that’s what I believe.
So discovery number two, if a country wants a good reputation, it has to be a good citizen. It has to contribute to the grand challenges in some way. It has to tackle visibly and effectively migration, poverty, inequality, pandemics, climate change and so on and so forth.
So this is a big discovery. This is a little bit like corporate social responsibility all over again. But at the level of the nation state, if you want to make more money as a country, you have to have a better image. And if you want a better image, you have to goddamn well behave yourself. And that is quite a surprising discovery.
Simon Anholt speaking at TEDx Amsterdam.
Why I wrote this book I think this is probably the main reason why I only felt ready to write this book when I had some mechanisms for encouraging countries and governments and people to behave differently that weren’t an appeal to their values.
I hope people won’t think that I’m a cynic. But I think that expecting governments and corporations to change their behaviour on the basis that something is right or wrong is never going to be as successful as when you appeal to them on the basis of what they really care about.
If it’s a government, it’s on the principle of staying in power and pleasing your people. And so, in a completely non-cynical way, I don’t waste my time telling people not to do things because they’re morally wrong. Nor do I waste my time criticizing people for doing the right things for the wrong reasons.
I don’t care about their motivations. I’m too old for that. I just care about whether they’re doing the right thing. And so that’s why the good country equation seems to be ready for exposure, because it’s based on simple, enlightened self-interest.
I’m not lecturing anybody. I’m not saying you must do this because it’s the right thing to do, because racism is wrong, because colonialism is wrong and so on and so on and so on. Those conversations can and will and must continue, but they don’t generally cause people to change their position.
On the other hand, if you can give somebody a very clear explanation for why changing their position will produce a better result for them, that’s in line with what they’re trying to achieve, then you stand a much greater chance of producing change. I’m not a purist in that respect. And so the good country equation is an appeal, a simple, logical, clear appeal to the self-interest of governments and individuals.
Sound: Mindfulness bell
The ins and outs of evidence-based research Since almost the very beginning of my career, I’ve liked all of the advice I give to countries to be evidence based.
That discovery that countries need good images and those images can only come from principled international behaviour mainly comes from analysis of a database of a survey called the Nation Brands Index, which are created back in 2005.
And this is just a big global annual poll which interviews 20,000 people around the world every year on their perceptions of 50 different countries. And by 2012, I discovered that it had accumulated over a billion data points. So, I took some time off to analyse that huge database because I wanted to ask one simple single question Why do people admire country more than country B?
I knew it wasn’t because country makes more noise about it. I knew it wasn’t because country does relentless propaganda campaigns telling everybody how wonderful it is, because it was obvious from the data that it was nothing to do with that. But by crunching this huge database, what I did discover was in fact that yes, the primary driver of a positive natural national reputation is good behaviour in the international community. And then I’ve used lots of other surveys of my own and other people’s surveys to corroborate that evidence over the years.
Simon in Helsinki.
That awful word: brand There is always a risk that if a country has a very good image, then people are not interested in hearing about or learning about or recognizing some of the bad things it does. And in exactly the same way, there’s a risk that if a country has a very bad image or a very weak or negative one, people are not interested in learning about the good things that it does. And the reason for this is because we’re just short of time. Last time I checked, there were 205 countries on Earth. And if we if we worried about the reality of those countries and we spent our time looking into exactly why we think they’re good or why we think they’re bad and how much harm and how much good they’ve done, we’d have no time left to do anything else.
We wouldn’t be able to eat or sleep. And so, what we do is we make do with the kind of prejudice stereotype.
This is why I use the awful term brand. 20 years ago, when I first coined this awful term brand, I was actually being ironic. I was saying that countries in the age of globalization have turned into brands on a supermarket shelf and it’s as if we can only hold in our mind at any one time one simple single fact about a country and one simple single set of prejudices, either positive or negative.
And this is hugely problematic because countries, of course, are not simple. Countries are really complicated. And anything you can say about one country, the opposite is probably equally true in a different domain. So that was the reason, incidentally, why I was very keen to create the Good Country Index, which I launched in 2014. This is an attempt to make it a little bit easier for people to actually answer that question: Is this country generally doing more good or more harm to the planet and to humanity in general? To do a kind of balance sheet for every country that answers that question for you in so far as it’s possible to answer it?
Why a Good Country Index? I remember the week I started work on the Good Country Index; David Cameron, who is the prime minister of the United Kingdom at the time, told us all on Monday that we should despise China because it was a serial abuser of human rights. And then on Friday, he told us that we should all love and admire and respect China because it was going to rescue the British nuclear industry.
And I found myself quite puzzled and I thought, well, this is supposed to be my trade and I’m puzzled. What must everybody else be thinking? And I realized actually I would like to know whether ‘Net-Net’ China is a contributor to humanity or whether it’s a free rider on the international system and America and the United Kingdom and all these other countries as well. So that’s where The Good Country Index came from.
The way that it works is in principle, very simple. There are just 35 big data sets that mostly come from the United Nations and a few other international organizations that the organizations that are capable of collecting robust and reliable data about, you know, 100 plus countries every year.
And basically, I look at all the data that gives you some measurement about positive or negative impact of that country outside its own borders. So, for example, I’m not interested in Sweden’s health care provision because that only affects its own citizens.
And if you want to find out how Sweden treats its own citizens, there are a dozen indexes out there that will tell you that. But I want to know whether I as a Brit, should feel glad that Sweden exists. Is it making the world a better place for me, not for not just for Swedes?
And so you can look through The Good Country Index and you can see the positive and you can see the negative. So you can see that, for example, yes, Sweden, like most rich countries, gives away quite a lot of spare cash to poor countries every year. And that’s generally a good thing. I don’t think it’s possibly the best thing it could do, but it’s a good thing. And there is it’s high mark on overseas development assistance. On the other hand, I can also see that it’s very near the bottom of the list when it comes to weapons exports.
Now, call me old fashioned, but I happen to think that selling guns is wrong because it results in people being killed. And by the way, you can also see how many people Sweden was responsible for killing outside its own borders; not very many.
And so across these 35 data sets, you can see all the measured and measurable contributions, positive or negative, that one hundred and sixty odd countries make to the world outside their borders. And it adds them up for you and it gives you a total. Whether you agree with that total or not is entirely a matter of personal opinion. But at least it’s trying to break down some of this enormous complexity and give you an answer to that question. Am I right to admire Sweden? And if so, in which areas and in which areas is Sweden not admirable? And is there something that I should do about it?
The framework of The Good Country Equation
There are 35 individual indicators that make up the overall ranking of the Good Country Index, and this sorted into seven categories. So, each country is evaluated according to its global contribution to science and technology, its global contribution to culture, its global contribution to international peace and security, its contribution to world order, its contribution to planet and climate, its contribution to prosperity and equality, and finally to health and well-being. And then within each of those seven categories, there are five data sets making a total of 35. Now, the interesting thing is that I didn’t actually start with the framework. I ended with the framework.
Where I started with was a search for data sets. So my colleague Robert Gervaise and I spent a long time just basically trying to find any good, reliable, annual robust data sets that measured the external impacts of the behaviours of at least 160 or 150 countries. And we managed to find 35. That’s all there are.
So we’ve basically ended up with these 35 data sets, some of them are negative, like how many people have you killed outside your own borders? Some of the positive, like how many scientific journals have you exported contributing to global science and technology and so on and so forth. And and then they make an overall ranking. Well, they make seven rankings, one for each category and an overall ranking for the for the good country index. And that’s basically the way that it works.
The good country index is updated every year. The I’m currently working on the latest edition and hope it’s going to be out in the next week or two.
The thing that people need to understand about the Good Country Index is that these data sets produced by the UN and other big international bodies, they tend to be about three or four years behind the times because they’re only published once they’ve been checked.
And if you’re talking about millions and millions and millions of data points, that takes a long time.
United States of change So, for example, the picture in the latest edition of the Good Country Index, one point three, we call it, shows that the United States of America is at overall ranking 40.
So relative to the size of its economy, it’s the fortieth country in the world in terms of the good that it does to humanity on the planet outside its own borders.
Incidentally, it’s a very, very close ties with Russia, which comes 41st.
The interesting thing is that not only The Good Country Index, but also the Nation Brands Index, which measures international perceptions of the country, have both been plummeting ever since Trump took office.
The United States is now the seventh most admired country on the planet, according to the Nation Brands Index, which is the same place it was in the second term of George W. Bush.
America is normally the most admired country on the planet. That’s its natural position still. But every time they have an internationally unpopular president, which happens from time to time, it tends to drop down to sixth or seventh.
051207 Dalarna hörsalen Teknikdalen, Foto Henrik Hansson.
Inserted: A tool for reflection and a work in progress Well, the good country index is very much a work in progress, it cannot and does not claim to present a full account of what countries contribute to the rest of the world. It just needed to be done.
So unless you’ve got data, you can’t really include it. You know, they’re hard to measure, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s shining a small torch in the corner of a very, very large, very dark field. And what I’ve always hoped when I release indicators like this is that people will take that as a cue to contribute, to make it better collectively rather than a cue to just say this isn’t complete. I know it’s not complete.
On environmental data In terms of the environmental data here, we’re still in the Middle Ages, frankly, when it comes to measuring ecological performance, if that’s the right word for it.
First of all, I use the ecological footprint created by the Global Footprint Network. And that’s quite a sophisticated piece of work and is good because it gives a kind of overall element into the countries score because we’re very interested in the policy side.
This is governments as much as countries that we’re talking about. We also include as a factor the degree of compliance that each government has with the major environmental agreements. And then we include hazardous pesticides exports, not necessarily because that in itself is the most significant thing, but because it tends to correlate quite strongly with a lot of other environmental or non-environmental behaviours.
We look at the countries renewable energy share because that gives us a hint as to the level of investment that they’re putting in to being more planet friendly. And we look at emissions of ozone depleting substances, which is still an issue. And again, it’s an important indicator.
Other uses of The Good Country Index There are a few countries now where they’re actually using The Good Country Index as a framework for questioning candidates in elections, which is a really, really interesting way of using it. That basically there’s a group in Australia, for example, who use the Good Country Index to quiz candidates who are standing for the next election.
And they say this is Australia’s profile at the moment. This is the good we do. This is the harm we do. What are you proposing to do about all of those? And the politicians are absolutely dumbfounded by this, mainly because elections are, generally speaking, a 100 percent domestic affair. Nobody ever talks about international relations during national elections, but that’s a whole other story.
From competition to collaboration I said before, why it’s economically in the interest of countries to collaborate more with other countries. But it’s also valuable for them to do that for another reason. And that is because it creates better policy. And if you look at the amount of collaboration that governments typically engage in in their daily existence, it’s pathetically small. I mean, the Nordics are better than many. The Nordics are better than many in many respects because they have a long history of cooperation and collaboration, both within their subregion and within the European Union. So they know that it works.
Sound: Mindfulness bell
Yes, sure, sure, but I mean, there’s this this idea which I mentioned in the book, which I call ‘entrepreneurial multilateralism’, which is extremely difficult to say; it’s a terrible a terrible name, but the idea is basically that countries shouldn’t wait for the UN to tell them to work on things. They should get together in random, weird, collective, collaborative units and solve their own problems collectively.
So when I was advising President Koroma in Sierra Leone a few years ago, I said to him, you know, we’ve got this this huge challenge of poverty in Sierra Leone. And of course, it would be great to talk to some other countries and see if we can observe some best practice and see if we can do some multicultural brainstorming. But let’s not go to the traditional countries, you know, the donors that always help Sierra Leone or your regional neighbours or whatever it is, let’s do something a bit more random and see if we can generate some much more unpredictable and much more exciting and inspiring interactions. So let’s go as random as we possibly can. So Sierra Leone begins with the letters S.L. Why don’t we just team up with every other place we can think of? That also begins with S.L.
So obviously Sri Lanka, St. Louis, Missouri, South London and so on and so forth. And you end up with the most random group of places you can possibly imagine that have nothing in common.
This is what the great Edward de Bono called lateral thinking. The more you mess up the frameworks of your thinking, the better the solutions become. If you’ve got Sierra Leone having a conversation with Saint Lewis and how do they say that in America, St. Louis with St. Louis and South London, then you’ve never had that conversation before? Guaranteed.
And the mutualisation of experiences and the mingling of the gene pool and the stirring up of those races and religions and histories and experiences and mindsets and approaches is just going to make a much, much richer soup and better ideas.
And then the great thing is that if you come up with an idea for reducing poverty in Sierra Leone, it works for all of those places, then it can be implemented in all of those places. And you fixed five countries for the price of one.
I think that the foreign minister should be renamed global minister and her or his job shouldn’t be to keep foreigners out of the country.
It should be to throw open the windows on every single policy debate in the country, even if it’s absolutely domestic things. If I was a Swedish politician and I had to sort out nurses pay in in your body, then the way that I would try and do that would be I would get a couple of public health specialists from Guatemala City and a couple from South Korea and a couple from South Africa. And we’d all sit down and brainstorm.
I absolutely guarantee that we will come up with more better interesting ideas than if we just had a bunch of Swedes in the same room together. And the same is true for any nation.
Your culture determines the extent to which you are capable of creative thinking, and the more you stir it up, the better the results.
This is not political correctness. But he whole point about difference is that it’s the most productive thing in the human experience; this extraordinary resource for creative and imaginative thinking. If only we stir things up. I think the world’s national anthems should be Stir It Up by Bob Marley.
Sound: Tanya’s garden, summer sounds
Outro: Thank you for listening to this episode of Nordic By Nature, ON GOOD COUNTRIES. You can find more information about Simon Anholt on his website, Simon Anholt dot com, and a transcript of this podcast on imaginarylife.net/podcast.
Simon’s book, The Good Country Equation: How We Can Repair the World in One Generation is published in San Francisco by Barrett Curler and distributed internationally by Penguin Random House.
Please help us by sharing a link to this episode with the hashtag #tracesofnorth and follow us on Instagram @nordicbynaturepodcast. We are also fundraising for a second series of podcasts on panteon.com/nordicbynature.
The music was created by Diego Losa. You can find Diego on diegolosa.blogspot.com
If you would like to find out more about nature-centred mindfulness, please see the work of Ajay (ah-jay) Rastogi on foundnature.org. You can also follow the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature on Facebook, and on Contemplation of Nature on Instagram.
Transcript to the Nordic By Nature Podcast, ON NARRATIVES
Welcome to Nordic By Nature. A podcast on ecology today, inspired by the Norwegian Philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the term Deep Ecology.
In this episode ON NARRATIVES, we hear from four people working to shape more constructive narratives of our relationship to nature in order to increase environmental protection.
First, we hear from Tom Crompton, founder of the Common Cause Foundation in the U.K. whose research into values shows that the dominant narrative of the selfishness of humankind is deeply flawed.
Then, Paul Allen from the Centre of Alternative Technology in Wales presents a positive and attainable vision of the future.
We then hear from Yuan Pan, whose work integrating biodiversity into the Natural Capital Framework at Cambridge University aims to help businesses and policy makers make smarter decisions and start understanding the direct benefits from acting as stewards of the environment and nature’s resources.
Finally, we hear from Rewilding expert Paul Jepson, who is also active in science communication, particularly in the area of nature recovery, science-policy interfaces and public participation. In 2018, Paul published two papers, one with Frans Schepers and Wouter Helmer on putting rewilding principles into practice and a second where he proposed that in Rewilding we are seeing the emergence of a new ‘Recoverable Earth’ environmental narrative. . Paul currently works for the UK-based consultancy Ecosulis Ltd.
Tom Crompton Intro
So, my name’s Tom Crompton. I direct a small not for profit called Common Cause Foundation which works on people’s values, what matters to people, and what shapes what matters to people, and our perception of what matters to our fellow citizens.
As soon as you begin to ask that question of what it is that underpins public appetite for ambitious change, you are led the social psychology of a values, of human motivation.
So, there’s a great deal of data on people’s own values. And there’s very little data on people’s perception of their fellow citizens values.
Tom Crompton from the Common Cause Foundation.
Researching the Impact of Values
We’ve used a standard values questionnaire, the ‘Thoughts Values Survey’
So, we have used that to start to ask people about their own values and then we’ve asked them to think about a typical fellow citizen, to respond about the values that they feel that typical fellow citizen holds to be important
What we find is that with regard to people’s own values, and in line with a great deal of other existing research, we find that people tend to place particular importance on what we call ‘compassionate values’.
So, these are values of friendship and kindness and social justice and equality and honesty and probably also include values of self-direction, values of curiosity and creativity.
So, people hold those values to be very important. And they attach relatively low importance to a set of values which is psychologically stand psychological opposition to those compassionate values. We call them self-interest values, and these include values of concern for finance financial success, or public image or social status.
Around about three quarters of people attach more importance compassionate values than they do to the self-interest ones.
A Fundamental Misunderstanding
So, then when we move on to ask people about what values they feel a typical fellow citizen holds to be important, we find that there’s a widespread misunderstanding that people typically underestimate the importance that a typical fellow citizen places on those compassionate values, and overestimate the importance that they place on the self-interest values.
That doesn’t incidentally seem to be as a result of reporting bias, you might imagine that a participant is perhaps reluctant to acknowledge the importance that they place on those self-interest values, but we are able to control that and that doesn’t seem to be the case. What we find is that the more inaccurate a person’s perception of the typical fellow citizens’ values, the less connected that person is likely to feel to their community, the less likely they are to have participated civically, recently the less likely they are to voted, and the less supportive they are for action on a range of social and environmental issues for example, homelessness or climate change or inequality, and the lower their wellbeing.
The simple truth that actually our typical fellow citizens care more about one another in the wider world than we might imagine, and we project that where we’re successful in conveying a more authentic understanding of what a typical fellow citizen or a typical person holds to be important.
Then we would anticipate that that would help to strengthen a sense of community strength and commitment to civic participation, strength and public support for action on social and environmental issues and strengthen people’s well-being.
Why Do We Think Others Are Materialistic?
I think we’ve perhaps been told for so long that we have essentially atomised self-interested individuals out to kind of optimise our own… And our outcomes… For our own selfish purposes. You know, it’s such a dominant understanding of human nature that lends right to a right to the natural sciences right to the social sciences that we’ve come to believe in.
And of course, it’s something that when we see people interacting with one another in large numbers it’s very often in a commercial environment, the kind of environment that we know tends to do more to cue or pry those more self-interested values.
So, what we’ve begun to do is to ask what kind of organisation might be able to work to convey to people a deeper appreciation of the concern of the importance that most people attach the most compassionate values.
Social Purpose driven Organisations
If an organisation and an organisation sees or identifies a sense of social purpose in deepening the feeling of community and well-being among the audiences that it engages and then I think a wide range of ways in which he can begin to communicate with those audiences in ways which will facilitate that. I think it would be simply part of it could become part of the patina of how an organisation communicates with its stakeholders.
On Greater Manchester
One area in which has been real interest in this work is in the in the city’s resilience teams have a team that is actually working to think about how the people of Greater Manchester respond to disasters. And of course, traditionally that’s work which has tended to focus on the practicalities of disaster or emergency response. But increasingly there’s recognition that the importance of working upstream that actually it’s how, um, it’s how citizens respond in an emergency. It’s the values which come to the fore in the course of those responses which is so important in shaping how, how collectively, a disaster or an emergency is met.
I think there’s also an opportunity to develop. I suppose a sensitivity to seeing where those values are already in action. And then suddenly or gently drawing attention to them. I think you know so often, we don’t recognise those values in action when we encounter them.
I think the important thing to do perhaps is to develop a sensitivity to seeing those values in action, and then creativity and imagination in thinking about how they might be made more salient, and that’s going to be different in every different organisational context.
Misperceptions from media and advertising
If you think if you think about the reverse side of it if you like. The perception, the misperception that most people are driven primarily by self-interested or selfish urges, that something which is implicit in so many of the ways in which we’re communicated at. By such a diverse range of different organisations. It’s not that that’s coordinated in any way. It’s just that it becomes so deeply embedded in our understanding of what it is that motivates one another, that those are the motivations we reach for, and tacitly connect with. In the course of communicating with people.
The question would be, the question that really interests me is and how do you move beyond the situation with people who are finding themselves to a common interest to a common concern, in the ultimate sense by seeing ourselves as human beings, we recognise that there are values of concern for one another in the wider world that are an inherent part of that identity.
Paul and CAT, The Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales.
My name is Paul Allen. I’m an electrical engineer by training. And in 1988, I left Liverpool and came to work at the Centre for Alternative Technology in XXX in XXX quarry, and I’ve worked here now for 30 years doing A whole range of different jobs.
The Centre for Alternative Technology was set up in the early seventies to help rethink the role of technology for society to make technology work better for citizens, but within the limits of the planet. So, we began experiments with a live lab with a real living inside community, looking at how we provide food, how we deal with waste, how we make the lights come on, in different ways, to try and make them more resilient, done in ways that the people living with them better understand them, and to reduce our ecological impact.
Paul Allen from the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales.
Well back then what was being talked about by the alternative movement was very far from the mainstream thinking. But it was at the cutting edge. And part of it was to have a holistic approach not just to focus on electricity or heat but to think about land use to think about food production to think about composting and waste and how all of those different systems can intersect as well. So that thinking has progressed over 45 nearly 50 years at CAT.
And now increasingly it’s moving into the mainstream, and becoming law, because the mainstream understands the physical limits of the world but also how to build better value better returns for human beings in return for what they’re looking for.
We have to recognise now we are in a climate emergency. We don’t have the option of business as usual for another 15 or 20 years. Now is the time.
So that’s the sort of thing I would suggest that process that needs to go through in all of business and industry almost to light a little candle as the voice of the future generations around the boardroom. Are we really behaving in the way that we need to, to respond to where we actually are in terms of human beings providing for the needs on earth.
Centre for Alternative Technology Machynlleth, Wales, U.K
What is your company’s mind-print?
I think Corporate Social Responsibility means looking at the – not just the footprint of the business but also the ‘mind-print’ of the business. Looking at me the marketing and the advertising and how that affects social values and the idea of associating to be a successful family or to be an attractive male you have to have a big car, is something that really needs to be challenged, and something in the car industry needs to take responsibility for, because people do need personal mobility, because we want to take the kids to see grandmother. But there’s ways of doing that with buying the service, and having a car when you need it, rather than owning one, that can foster reliable cars, that are designed to last longer, where that sort of resilience and longevity actually helps the business model, rather than designing short life cars that are far bigger and heavier than they need to be. But backing up that huge amounts of merchandising and advertising and product placement.
So we need to challenge those norms.
Transport as an example
The Welsh government is supporting people who use transport, public transport, there is a free bus passes the road and on Saturdays and Sundays, to encourage more people to think about public transport.
We’ve also reached a point in terms of data harvesting where anybody in any town or county can put up a map where everybody puts the journey they want to do so that the local transport providers know who needs to travel where and when and what time so we can develop public transport systems that meet the needs of the citizens.
We’re not talking about delivering a utopia. We’re talking about just changing the infrastructure system, so human beings can continue to evolve within a safe platform, for the next two three four five hundred years.
Technology has to work within a plan that works and is driven by and has social license from citizens. We can’t have citizens lifestyle driven by what works for technology and the profit of corporate interest. And that’s the sort of shift in understanding that I think needs to really get out there.
There is an enormous amount of really exciting really good practice happening.
I’d recommend you have a little look at the Ashton award winners’ website. Yeah with some really good videos and fabulous projects that are really happening on the ground now we just need to be like bees and cross fertilise cross pollinate these projects and help other people find them.
Basically, the problem we face is carbon lock-in, how we deliver housing, transport, food, lightbulbs coming on, that has co-evolved with fossil fuels over hundreds of years, well 150 years at least. So, we need to challenge those complex intertwined relationships. One of the most exciting ways that we see that is smart innovative community scale city scale projects.
One example is something like energy local where if you’re running a community hydro you don’t sell your electricity to the grid at 5:00 being in the house next door buys it at 15 even if they’ve got a virtual private wire network set up where people around the community hydro can buy the electricity cheaper and the hydro gets a better price for it and it builds relationships with citizens.
Or another good example might be at municipal level where Nottingham was running a project called Robin Hood energy. And essentially, it’s run by the Council for the people, buy and sell electricity as affordable as possible to bring the price down and citizens of Nottingham That’s an example of doing things for municipal benefits not for profit.
There’s so much good stuff out there and it is beginning to grow. The trick is to cross fertilise it so everybody can find out and access the really good ideas so we’re not all starting from the beginning.
There’s been technological advances in energy storage but there’s also been big advances in restorative agriculture and rethinking how we can revitalise natural systems to increase their carbon capture as well as improving resilience and soil quality.
I think one of the biggest challenges we face in rising to the climate emergency challenge is the people who are thinking about the solutions are quite often in their own individual silos of expertise.
There are so many core benefits in thinking about energy, food, transport, buildings, together in a single scenario. It also means that very, very big systemic changes as well.
We need to think about how we are supporting land use, what we’re using land for, drawing upon our indigenous wisdom of tradition.
Because if we look back at farms in Wales or in Scotland or in England over 30 40 50 100 years we can find fabulous records of how we used to farm with more cereals more crops more oats more turnips more vegetables and we can draw upon the wisdom not to go back in time but to rethink farm use in the 21st century in a way that helps us understand what the land is produced in the past and can produce in the future so that we can begin to produce a more healthy mix of food for better matches what human beings need to eat whilst also restoring soil quantity quality, and thinking about resilience because we live in turbulent times this turbulent climate turns into turbulent political times and having more resilience built into the system and more local connections and stronger skills verses that are more flexible can help give us a better system to pass over to future generations.
A shift in mindset
Well I think it’s very important to look at the history of seeing ourselves as part of nature. We are nature protecting ourselves rather than we are environmentalists protecting something that’s out there called nature that is nothing to do with us.
Nature provides for all of our lives, the oxygen provides food provide everything that we need. We are part of it. We are part of each other. And that shift is seeing interconnection I think is fundamental in helping change the behaviours that we need to see but also making us happier healthier human beings.
And partly I think there’s cultural norms that need to be rethought the idea that peasants work on the land and people who work on the land are poor and people who work in the urban environment are rich successful people, doesn’t really work out. If you look at how people’s happiness is measured people’s happiness is directly related to their connections with nature and the sense of meaning in nature. And then they feel that what they’re actually doing as social and natural worth rather than just churning out money.
Yuan Pan Intro
Hello, everyone. I’m Yuan Pan. And I work with Professor Bhaskar Vira here at the Cambridge Conservation Institute on Natural Capital, particularly incorporating biodiversity into Natural Capital accounts.
Personally, I’m quite a pessimistic person, but when it comes to conservation, thought science, I think we are all quite optimistic. I think most of us are optimistic.
What is Natural Capital?
Natural Capital essentially is an economic term. So Natural Capital is the stock of the world’s natural resources.
The way I see it is a different way of framing the narrative of protecting nature. A story that will hopefully impact with policymakers and businesses. What we’re trying to say is that nature has value towards human society.
And some of that can be economic value, but it can also be other types of body as well. So within this research, we are only focussing on Natural Capital. But of course, I know about human capital and social capital. We’re also concerned with other types of value, like cultural values and kind of the intrinsic value of nature. Nature has value in itself, regardless of whether humans are here or not.
So Natural Capital definitely started out after ecosystem services emerged. So, people tend to use the two terms interchangeably nowadays. So ecosystem services are the benefits that we get from nature. So it’s like a flow of benefits. But Natural Capital is the stock.
And for a lot of businesses, they all doing ecosystem services, valuation or Natural Capital valuation. And I think that’s helping them to highlight that nature is kind of providing a lot of resources for them and they need to keep a resilient, sustainable ecosystem. Otherwise, for all businesses, they have raw materials.
Why take an anthropocentric view?
Stocks will eventually collapse. Basically. I would say essentially the terms are Anthropocentric, so they are human based. Because the definition for both of them is are benefiting human society. But what I have found in my research is that in fact, by using these kind of terms, you’re resonating more with businesses and policy makers, because unfortunately, we do live in a society where most people just concentrate on economic returns. Monetary values and these kinds of terms.
When you talk to businesses, their eyes tend to light up. And the kind of conservation that I did before, a lot businesses, they just tend to shy away from that, I think.
Biodiversity is a very difficult topic within Natural Capital accounting, and my project is trying to incorporate biodiversity in so currently lots of people just ignore biodiversity. And I think part of the reason is even as an ecologist, it’s very hard when I say like, what do you think when I say biodiversity? It can mean a lot of different things, trying to improve the situation with incorporating biodiversity by saying that it does have a lot of value, but the values are hard to measure because it’s the relationships are non-linear and also, they can’t be very easily monetary valued.
Everyone’s hearing this situation about the bees disappearing. And one of the things that people do pick up on when they talk about Natural Capital or ecosystem services is that these are very vital for pollination. But when you look at the research, but we can’t predict what will happen in the future with climate change and with the extreme weather conditions. So, in the future, we might need those other species that currently don’t seem to be performing any functions. But this is the other issue we’ve been talking about that for climate change. There’s, you know, kind of a very specific protection goal like either 1 degree or 2 degrees. And Paul, the reason that I think there’s been more focus on climate change compared to biodiversity protection per say is because climate change is quite easy to conceptualise.
Basically, you have a degree goal that you’re working towards. We can’t we don’t have a very specific protection goal.
So, the first question is how much biodiversity do we need to sustain basic functions and processes that we don’t die as a society? But the second question is how much biodiversity do we want? And that’s not necessarily the same. A lot of people would like a very specific protection goal for biodiversity protection, just like climate change is very difficult to actually arrive a threshold value to say how much is it we actually want to protect?
We have a lot research and we have a lot of data, but perhaps there’s no kind of overarching narrative or kind of story that are linking them all together. I mean, currently there are papers regarding that. We need this kind of overarching objective. I don’t know whether you’ve heard of it. This thing called half earth or nature needs half.
It’s a very kind of bold objective that says that we should set aside half of earth for nature.
Basically, I can see that is good to have kind of an overarching, very easy to understand objective.
I acknowledge the benefits of economic valuation and I have done some projects I’m done. But as an ecologist, I know there’s a lot of things that can’t be valued economically. And one of the things people have been looking into is kind of Functional Traits for like soil, like earthworms, etc. soil organisms or macro invertebrates in the river. I was interested previously in looking at Functional Traits, so people traditionally look at species as an ecologist. So how many species there is an ecosystem. But what people have been finding ecology is that Functional Traits are important to their body size.
Are they decomposing or what kind of specific thing the insect does in decomposition? And the research has been suggesting that we should be more concerned when a whole functional group goes extinct because then the services can’t be provided.
A case study for Nature Protection.
I’ve got a small case study, obviously, in China. So the lake system I worked on in China. It’s the third largest freshwater lake in China. There’s about four or five major cities around the lake. And what happened was there was so much pollution and urbanisation going around the lake that in 2007, people in one city had no access to tap water for about four or five days because there was a blue green algae bloom, basically that the lake constantly has been growing algae bloom. And it was only then I think the government realised that this is a really serious issue because they had to provide bottled water to the community for about four or five days. There was price inflation in the supermarkets and bottled water. And then they had to get people to clean the decomposing algae in the lake as well. So the whole massive event cost them, I think, billions of dollars to actually clean up.
And what some of the scientists later suggested is part of the reason could have been because a lot of the wetlands were reclaimed around the lake and the wetlands were destroyed. And if the wetlands had still remained as a buffer system for taking the pollutants out, then perhaps they wouldn’t have spent so much money trying to mitigate the risk after it happened. So I think with companies as well, they are looking at how do we prevent the risk from happening rather than let it happen. And then it will cost us a lot of money to actually repair the damage that’s been done.
Nature Capitals, Intrinsic Value and Relational Value.
As a researcher I am suggesting there’s multiple forms of value and not just economic value. And I think in terms of changing people’s perspectives or businesses or policy makers, I don’t think necessarily monetary valuation of either Natural Capital ecosystem services is going to do it. I think there has to be like a change in people’s values and opinions like inherent to the media. We’re trying to, I will say, improved a framework of Natural Capital concepts. So Natural Capital essentially, I think the value that’s coming out from there is instrumental value, basically kind of physical values. We can understand like providing water, providing food, etc. But there is also, like I said, with the intrinsic value.
So biodiversity I think has intrinsic value. You know, despite whether we are here or not that it does have a type of value. And lastly, which is this new type of value which is coming up, is called relational values. So how humans relate with nature and kind of how we make decisions about nature, either from kind of a moral or ethical perspective, regardless of whether nature has economic value.
This kind of moral, ethical imperative to protect nature. I think sometimes it does apply to even businesses. So a lot of businesses, they kind of want to have a good image and part of that good image is kind of doing environmental sustainability work. So that’s why I think Natural Capital, an eco-system services colony, is resonating quite heavily with a lot of the business sectors. As a traditional ecologist, I got into this because I love nature, but obviously working in China, I can see that the traditional approach was not working. A lot of businesses, they might not want to deal with biodiversity because even for scientists, it’s quite a complex concept.
Expanding the definition of sustainable business.
We need to work out a way that they need to be aware that biodiversity is important for their sustainable business. Previously, I did work with our local ecological knowledge in China, and the research kind of proved that we had a lot of experts going out to a remote region trying to find an endangered species and we couldn’t find them.
But I interviewed a lot of the ethnic minorities around there and they said, oh, we saw that species like two weeks ago in that river. And they helped me to map out where they’d seen the species. And it helped us to find the species.
Basically, there was a lot of different subject areas and research that needs to be done. That includes not only natural scientists, bills, shows from scientists, economists, accountants, even philosophers, so….
Connectivity to and in Nature
So obviously, you know, as a young ecologist to many years ago, my lecturers, you know, taught about kind of connectivity within the landscape. There is no point in setting aside, you know, national parks or no go zones if there is no connectivity, no corridors between them. This kind of threshold values that they having set for both of us. The I mean, there has been one which is January kind of 11 percent told percent of terrestrial errors should be protected as national parks, but actually the 10, even a 10 or 11 percent one.
It wasn’t based on scientific evidence. It was based on many years ago it in America. They decided that was this on sounded like a good number to protect national parks. And I think the current scientific evidence is showing that, you know, even like eleven percent, which we’re not hitting anyway in some areas is probably not enough.
Have some way that moved onto the half of kind of hypothesis, the kind of idea.
I think urban ecology is also a very important research area and that you can only consider the ones at national parks, but also the fact with urbanisation that people are losing their connectivity to nature. So even if we end up protecting everything in the national parks. But if everything is so urbanised, then children are not you know, they’re not exposed to nature. They’re losing connectivity to nature. They just like playing computer games. And they don’t see the point in protecting nature. I think in the future, it still won’t work.
Yeah, hi, so my name’s Paul Jepson. I’ve been a conservationist all my life.
I’m currently working for a progressive consultancy called Eco Solis and I moved into the enterprise sector just recently, actually after 12 years directing Masters’ courses in the School of Geography at Oxford University.
Prior to that, I was a practitioner working for birdlife in Indonesia and I started my career in urban conservation in Manchester and Shrewsbury in the UK.
Enterprise and conservation.
We now realise that there’s a big role for enterprise in rewilding, landscape restoration. There’s a new area which I’m involved in, which we’re developing, which is working at the intersection of landscape recovery, technology and finance. The configuration of conservation environmentalism does need to change. But if you all work together, you’re more than the sum of the parts.
Really, if we can have change, we need to, you know, increase employment market, if you like. That’s not happening with NGOs, but with technology and actually more distributed organisational types and ways of working. There’s a real opportunity for free enterprise there. We can work for in an entrepreneurial way, for nature, in the environment, in many different sectors.
And for me, the future and the influence comes from informal networks connecting different organisational types in different sectors, working with clients. It’s really looking at code, designing solutions with them, bringing the creative thinking which is encapsulated within rewilding into those conversations.
There’s a number of different ways of thinking about rewilding. I mean, my favourite is that it’s just it’s just a label, a label like maybe the labels hippie or punk or whatever, which signify an unsettling sort of reassessment of where we are, maybe a desire to shape up the future. But rewilding is doing that in terms of how we think about nature conservation, our relationship with the environment and so forth.
So, one way of thinking about it is just that new opportunity for people to engage and shape futures, shape futures of nature, the environment, our engagement with it. This is talking a little bit from a Western European perspective, but a lot of our nature conservation has been focussed on protecting conserving benchmark ecosystems or habitats as particular assemblages of plants, specific types of woodlands or grasslands or so forth. Or it’s been about protecting declining species and so forth.
A lot of it has been focussed on elements, units of nature and particular identities of nature. It’s enabled strong law, clear policy targets, management targets and so forth. I think this particularly long term ecology and the advances in that science, which have been enabled by technology, we’ve come to understand past ecosystems much better and come to understand that across much of the world, including Western Europe, grasslands and large herbivore assemblages or mixed wood pastures were the norm and they supported huge diversity and had great resilience and all of these sort of things.
But actually millennia ago, humans wiped out a lot of the big megafauna or we domesticated it. That actually we’ve been living in a world where we’ve internalised ecological impoverishment, both in our culture and in our institutions and in our conservation policy.
There isn’t one nature. There isn’t a pristine nature that there’s multiple past natures. What would happen if, to the extent we can we reassemble in Europe, the large herbivore assemblies?
So things which have been divided like, you know, we only know cattle and horses in the domestic livestock farming. We still have deer in the wild realm. What happens if we just reassembled them all together? There were some very pioneering experiments of this in the Netherlands.
It was quite extraordinary what is happening when this idea of rewilding is put into play. Amazing kickbacks of a nature rebounds at nature habitats on smaller ecosystems like freshwater ecosystems appearing in places which we never knew them. Species which we thought were rare, suddenly returning in abundance and much more dynamic natures. That’s the sort of scientific conservation identity of rewilding.
Us v European versions
And I suppose when we say, well, what does rewilding mean? It means different things to different people. The term originated in North America and there rewilding was much more tied up with concepts of wilderness and maybe Christianity and bring wolves back and top down trophic cascades in Western Europe.
The version of rewilding which I’m involved in is a very pragmatic version which says actually if we’re recovering and restoring nature, we can’t go backwards. We can only go forward so that the rewilding natures that emerge will be different from anything we’ve ever known before. But they’ll be equally as wonderful as nature before. But if we are shaping nature, we can actually shape those natures to solve current problems.
So there’s a very sort of integrated form of rewilding emerging in continental Europe. For instance, on the Dutch Delta, with climate change, there’s increased rain events, pulses of water coming down these huge rivers. But by taking out some dikes, buying a public cultural land a very pragmatic way, using the silt that brick building to re restore these sort of natural river braiding and channelling, bringing in natural grazing. So bringing in herds of of wild eyed horses, cattle, the introducing beavers, again, recreating those large mammal assemblies in these areas, you’re getting incredible nature. But cities and companies have been benefiting from lower flood management and insurance costs. The construction industry benefited from having a source of bricks. People have benefited from just having great areas where you can go and hang out and have a nice time at weekends. And then there’s tertiary tourism economies building of that. So you get these really lovely, neat systems starting to emerge.
Another example of a nature-based solution with rewilding is pragmatic. European version would be based in Portugal.
The kind of climate change adaptation at the centre of the IBM venture is getting drier. There’s rural the population, which is a loss of traditional herding. This is increasing biomass.
That’s leading to intensity of wildfires, which my goodness, what a problem.
But actually doing rewilding and bringing in natural grazing again, you reduce biomass load, so you induce the intensity of wildfires and then you get you can either use them as natural areas for tourism and sort of wilderness type areas or you could do sort of new pastoralist type economies on it. So that’s what distinguishes us as a species on this planet, is the fact that we have this third reality where a lot of what we do and how we act and how we think is shaped by narratives and stories and language and so forth. And many of these narratives, they, you know, they develop over time, they sediments over time, but they really do shape how we think and how we are, how we move ahead and how we relate to each other, of course.
Across the world we are seeing an increasing amount of wildfire outbreaks fuelled on by global warming, biodiversity collapse and climate unpredictability.
So I think it’s important we develop a narrative of nature and our relationship with environment, which was a really powerful narrative and it’s achieved much. But it actually is a very cautious and protectionist narrative such that we all sort of wanted to put nature out there and separate and fragile, maybe people who colleagues in other sectors, architecture, urban development, industry or whatever, they haven’t really seen nature as a force which we can engage with to shape futures or shape place based futures. It’s almost saying something is a bit less under threat. We need to put it aside or whatever in rewilding.
We’re seeing a different narrative emerging there that that narrative of empowerment. This is where we’re at. We can’t go back. There’s not a lot point in blaming people. Let’s just stop doing something to make things better. And then there’s narrative elements.
They often talk about pioneer action or people getting together and and through this, starting to reassess how we might do things. Values, world-views and bringing people on board and this sort of momentum.
So, much more of an interactive narrative from which emerges stories of of wellness, I suppose so adaptation, a word which comes to my mind, which you heard, is this notion of offsetting. You know, we offset harm, so companies do that. You know, they’re offsetting their carbon footprint. They’re doing biodiversity offsets. And that’s one way to do it, saying, well, OK. You know, we just feel a bit bad about things. So we’ll we’ll try and offset our impact elsewhere. OK, fine. But again, it’s not saying, well, you know what, I don’t want to feel bad for it. I want to be contribute to a vision and I want to be part of change. Many. Know. I think that’s what many people want.
A narrative of recovery
I woke up one morning. It’s a narrative of recovery. Just was in my head at my breakfast, quickly jumped on my bike, was down into the university and got onto the academic search engines and just started pushing narrative of recovery in two web of science and outputs.
This I mean, a massive amount of literature, but these papers are mental health recovery.
The crucial thing which really grappling me in the link between these narratives and the narratives I was hearing in in rewilding or this new environmentalism is rather than pressuring others to act on our behalf, which is part of the classic campaigning thing of environmentalism.
It was really like, you know, you can’t wait for a national health service or the doctors to sort yourself out. Just sooner or later, you’ve got to start taking responsibility for your own health. And that’s the always the epiphany people have.
And then you start engaging, you start acting, you start beginning just getting together and starting to make projects happen and finding that that new way, that wellness, that recovery in it. So it’s really interesting the term rewilding and how is the original ideas were more associated with classic sort of U.S. wilderness ideas. These ideas in Holland started under the term nature development, which was a sort of technocratic policy, and then the term rewilding has been applied to them all.
Now we talk about semantics, the re prefix. It can either, you know, its Latin origins, it can either mean back or again. And that’s really interesting, that difference. So, what we’re finding is that some people immediately see it as going back, you know, going back to a sort of more wilderness fortress conservation way outside, people telling people what to do.
But actually in this European one, it is really using the rivers again. So, we can re-find engagements with nature, connections with nature.
And it’s really interesting when you look at all of the reworks which the European rewilding seems to align with. So you could say that the way we use urban regeneration, regenerating urban areas is nothing like, you know, you don’t go backwards. It’s always going forward. They look quite different. The recovery, in a sense, you recover a song about injury. You might not ever be the same again, but you recover. How do we think about recovering Earth’s systems, of which we are part of it is the big international agreements and policies, but part of it is just as people getting going on things in their areas, in their competencies, in their places and through that getting this sort of bottom up momentum. We are friendly to the natural asset framework.
Nature Capital or Assets?
For me, capital is quite a linear type of thinking, often capitals. We think about capitals and then they can create flows, you know, so whether it be labour money or natural resources can be an input into a production service.
And sometimes it’s a bit divisive as well. And it sort of gives prominence or pre-eminence to economic logics, whereas assets and assets are actually a lot more meaningful.
I think to people. So, example I use is with culture, with human assets, with infrastructural assets, with institutional assets, and that’s what creates a natural asset. And some of those assets are already here. But we can’t think about restoring recovery and creating new natural assets and new natural assets which are part of that place. Building or place, rejuvenation, regeneration, whatever we whatever we want to call it.
You know, one of these nice things about the rewilding logic, it sort of releases you from baselines. You take inspiration from past nations to shape future natures.
You’re not trying to recreate something so that they create space for different groups to come together and to think about what forms of natural asset they may want and where those natural assets may be. I’ll give the example in the Netherlands that they needed new natural assets along their rivers to adapt to climate change or whatever. It might be in other areas that people are looking for new natural assets to have somewhere to go. Dog walking, which is quite popular in the UK or have somewhere to have a wild experience, somewhere which produces food in a more a healthier and more ethical way.
A dream project
I think the dream client is somebody who had or could create some space where you could do something pioneering contained areas where you’re doing something new, where you’re experimenting, just trying out things new. And people can come and talk about them. They can bring in people who are sort of more progressive, change agent can get involved in them.
They can be used as exemplars for adoption in wider society. I’m talking about innovation hubs, the nature.
A dialogue way, a code design way of changing and bringing about new environmental or new natural futures.
Pioneer demonstration, experimental projects approach. I think it’s a good way of yeah, co design. I think that’s the word co-production of Environmental Futures. With outlined a set of rewilding principles, so sort of guiding principles which aren’t prescriptive but very sort of characterise what rewilding is, so the fundamental of restoring ecological dynamics and processes, taking inspirations from past natures to shoot showed the futures working with restored forces of nature.
A strong sense of place
One of the things we do know from, you know, from theory Anderson’s imagined communities is that nature that nature is very good at place branding and given the sense of nature and this sense of territory and sense of community and belonging.
One of the interesting things is that if their novel, the new natures, which we’re creating, which they are, if we’re reassembling our church for and biotic diamonds. So if they’re not protected by nature conservation legislation because they don’t fit with that. So, you know, the more they become these free spaces and actually you can be much more relaxed about what people do in them. And again, this is happening in the Netherlands, where, if you like the most famous site, gather support. People are allowed just to do whatever they want in it. And of course, the interesting thing is because it’s dynamic and wild and this big stuff walking around. Most people tend to keep to the path. You become human again, you know, so like a bit scared. Nobody is telling you what to do. And if you want to go off. I mean, I did this once. If you want to go in and go off off the footpath and go in and get dirty, look for beavers and have a bit of an adventure, you can do it. But there’s very few people who do that.
We’re in an increasingly regulated society. Whatever the merits of it, there’s much more health and safety, we’re told, to look after ourselves as.
All of this, the opportunity just to get out into natural areas in your town where you can just do what you want. Social norms, rules and regulations. I mean, that that sounds to me to be valuable. It is an interesting thing about nature is that once you start helping it recover, it says thanks so fast.
Nature does have a force.
From anxiety to solutions.
In the 1990s, I worked in Indonesia and I set up the BirdLife International Program there, and for the first part I was working out in eastern Indonesia on parrot conservation, so forth. But then actually after I left that job, I started working as a consultants, mostly with the World Bank and a couple of NGO on on the Sumatran frontier.
And it was a pretty hard time in some mice that, well, two or three things were going on. Really? What one is, you know, you go to a forest area and you go six and play later. And the landscape was totally, totally trashed.
And a in almost turn down these roads, the roads and as swampy areas with just the skeletons of trees stood out.
There a bit harrowing, actually, I realise I mean, at the time I was sort of in this professional, I, you know, doing this sort of way, but it was getting to me partly maybe also got to me because I had such magical times in my backpacker days and tropical rainforests just feeling the aesthetic and the sheer beauty of it and the wonder of it.
You know, just feeling that’s been lost and been lost for it’s the frontier.
But then the other thing which really got me was to other things, really. One was the chaos international NGOs working at ministerial level, World Bank.
And this realisation that we had no control over the chaos of the frontier, just out of control. Big NGO sort of dropping off the real active engagement with the ground.
Well, I listened a bit to Radiohead, but I actually listened to okay, computer and sorted out. You should listen to this. And it just became the soundtrack of my life. And anybody who knows the okay computer algorithm will just know sort of wailing crescendos and then these really rock-hard guitar riffs. And it just became the soundtrack of my life. I think it’s going to be honest. I realise that that period I was I moved into a place where teaching the students then started talking back to us, not just me as selectors and say, look, we don’t want to hear all of this.
You know, all the evidence about the decline of nature and biodiversity loss and blah, blah. You know, we know things were in a bad way. We don’t want to be a future where we’re just defending the inevitable. And, you know, these images are smashing M.E. mind. You know, we want theory, ideas and learning so we can shape the future. And then as part of that, I started looking outwards and I found the work going on in the Netherlands and I started taking field trips out there and then came into this. It doesn’t all have to be like the Sumatran frontier.
Even though we may trash things, there is still opportunities for nature to recover and to work on nature recovery.
Tanya: Thank you for listening to this episode of Nordic By Nature, ON NARRATIVES. You can find more info on our guests and a transcript of this podcast on imaginarylife.net/podcast
Nordic by Nature is an Imaginary Life production. The music and sound have been arranged by Diego Losa. You can find Diego on diegolosa.blogspot.com.
Many thanks to our guests. You can find Tom Crompton on commoncausefoundation.org.
Paul Allen is at the Centre for Alternative Technology, on cat.org.uk.
Your can contact Dr. Yuan Pan’s through the Geography department at Cambridge university in the U.K. Her research into Natural Capital was with Professor Bhaskar Vira at The Cambridge conservation initiative. Please see cambridgeconservation.org. or contact the Natural Capital hub for more information into Natural Capital as well as organisation and company toolkits
Paul Jepson is currently Nature Recovery Lead at the consultancy Ecosulis. Their website is Ecosulis.co.uk.
You can contact Ajay Rastogi via foundnature.org where you can read about the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature. You can also follow the Foundation on Facebook, and on Contemplation of Nature on Instagram.
Please help us by sharing a link to this episode with the hashtag #tracesofnorth and follow us on Instagram @nordicbynaturepodcast. We are also fundraising for a new series of podcasts on panteon.com/nordicbynature.
Christoph Eberhard is a bilingual Austrian living in France; a specialist in the anthropology of law and author of the book Human Rights and Intercultural dialogue. Eberhard is also a TaiChi and QiGong Teacher. He says he is on a journey of peace, and that means dialogue: dialogue with oneself, with others, with our environment and the greater beyond. His motto is “Life is not a void to be filled. It is a world of abundance, or “plenitude,” waiting to be discovered.”
Qi gong class at the Vrikshalaya centre, held by teacher Christoph Eberhard.
Transcript, Christoph Eberhard, ON INNER RESILIENCE
I’m Christopher Eberhard… I’m Austrian. Now, I’m based in the South of France, Archachon.
To put it in a nutshell like my whole life has been devoted to, um, I would say a quest for peace, or harmony; a living harmony.
So, it manifested on the one hand, let’s say more social sciences. I had a career as a legal anthropologist, between Law and Social Sciences, trying to see how we could live together in a more dialogical way, understanding each other and harmonising each other a bit better.
And then the second aspect was like dialogue with inner dialogue and with nature and that especially expressed itself in my interest with the traditional arts especially the Chinese Internal arts and Indian arts like yoga.
For me like this inner resilience would be in this question of dialogue.
Dialogue is listening but it’s not only listening with your ears it’s listening with your heart. And even more than that is listening with your soul. We can experience that in our very, very day to day experience it’s just like taking some time not starting to speak immediately taking five minutes or 10 minutes just to harmonise, before doing something.
Just letting the mind settle, being rooted in a certain way.
Sometimes people don’t want to do it, they say they don’t have time to do it, but actually just this sitting quietly, calmly, in a certain way completely changes the whole atmosphere.
And if you do it, you would find that people are much, much, more open to real dialogues, to listening to each other, to really sharing their experiences, than if you do it without that quiet time at the beginning. So, you start to dialogue with another human being. Really dialogue, in the sense that you really wanted to listen to that person, and you, you let yourself be challenged, by maybe the world view that he presents or the sensitivity that he’s expressing.
While it may on the one hand be enriching, but sometimes it may be very shocking. You know. We, we may not really want to hear certain things, or we do not really hear certain things until we have heard them back a hundred times and then suddenly you’re like “Oh wow. There was something deeper than I thought.”
So when this happens it’s, it’s a kind of a challenge, also, some that leads to a second kind of dialogue which is the dialogue with which I call with ‘oneself;’ you start to become aware of what our, let’s call it invisible horizon of action and living things.
And for that actually we need the dialogue with others, because otherwise we can never become aware of our own personal window. And then when you start to deepen this dialogue with others and yourself by listening more to yourself. You also start to realise that actually you are connected to the nature all around you.
That in a certain way, once the sensitivity to listening has been opened up, well, you start to listen to the trees to the sun then the flowers to the to the clouds, in a certain way they talk to you.
If you want to listen, first you have to empty yourself, and then everything come and talks to you. The dialogical aspect of nature which starts to unfold. So, it’s a dialogue with oneself, with the others with the nature. And then there’s this other dimension which I call like beyond, whatever you want to call it, you know, these things which are beyond words and you cannot really express it, but which is also there.
Sometimes, when we talk about inner, we kind of separated or distinguish it from outer. For me, I would rather say that the experience of also entering in yourself, or entering in dialogue with nature or with the beyond, is more a process of creating links, where there was more links you may have had an idea of a feeling of separation, you know, you’re feeling separate from the others, and you’re feeling separate from nature.
Nature is more objects which are outside; the second world of objects. It’s not living reality. Even some people… who just see them like objects and some robots which there, which behave in a certain way, but they’re not really persons that we interact with.
And the same thing with ourselves, and we may even ourselves not really…. We do our work. We do our things when our routines. But are we really considering ourselves as another living subject, as such.
There’s four dimensions —and you can start from any of these dimensions.
If you’re somebody who has been growing up in a very natural surrounding, maybe your first dialogue starts with nature. Some people they’re shepherds and they spend lots of time alone for months in the mountains. So probably for them the first kind of dialogue which would start is more like a dialogue with nature, and then the dialogues may come.
For people like me and more like a city person. And so, it’s more confronted with people at the beginning, you know. But the important point is to say that for me all these dimensions are always there. At the moment when we start to open one of these dimensions, dialogue of one of these dimensions, little by little we start to realise how everything is much, much, much more linked together than we ever expected.
Life is not the void to be filled, it is a plenitude to be discovered. The ‘other’ is not the void to be filled. It’s a plenitude to be discovered.
It’s not just it’s always easy to go someone see what they don’t have is they don’t have that they don’t have that they don’t have that, and just construct them like the inferior version of yourself, but they can do the same thing, because from their point of view, you don’t have this and don’t have that and don’t have that and so on.
Wouldn’t it be more interesting, instead of trying to fill the other with your own projections, and your own ideas, to just listen, open up and then maybe discover all the plenitude the ‘other’ is. I just started to realise that our lives generally speaking sometimes very often a void to be filled.
You know, we, feel that we have to have a certain social status and we feel that we have to on a psychological level we want to achieve certain things and economical level, which is wonderful, as long as it is not something we just do because we need to fill our lives, and at the moment that we dare to maybe step back a little we may just find out that life is actually very rich and well these things may be happening without us trying to push too hard. Plenitude means you start to realise all the relationships that you, you are knotting together, through your being.
Just like you have a physical body, considering like a modern western science, we are actually really children of the stars. I mean that is …all the elements that we made of are made in the stars, so we have actually a relationship with them.
So, we have this physiological level, but then we have our emotions, we have our feelings, we have our thoughts; in all these different dimensions are all interlinked.
By the contemplation of outside nature, which we perceive as being outside, we actually establish a relationship, one which on the outside level may lead us to this feeling that we that we should not care for the environment because it’s our duty, but because of its beauty. And so, we establish that relationship with the outside nature.
But at the same time, contemplating the outside nature also actually refers us back to our inside nature. You can use the term ecological, but I would just say our, inner nature. What life is about. (laugh)
You are part of nature.
When I say nature, you know there’s nature, and nature there’s the visible nature that we see. And then there’s nature in the sense of let’s call what is the whole planet. And the solar system and the galaxies, and now they are talking about multiverses — all this is part of this other broader concept.
It really links, creating links where we didn’t see links, links where there was separation, little by little to see that things are so much linked, which is very important in the ecological thinking, you start to enter into this more holistic approaches to things because you realise you cannot just cut things into pieces, they’re always related and whenever you change something, someone always has an effect on the whole.
If you start practicing any Qi Gong, if you start practicing any movement, which you will do with the relaxed body, tasting what you’re doing, maybe doing it slowly, and doing it with awareness. Little by little what you will start to feel is what the Chinese often call Qi which is energy.
Again which is experiential, the one feeling that you may have at the beginning, is you will feel some tingling in the fingers or you may feel some warmth that will come, and then if you continue at some point you may feel it more inside, kind of a magnetic feeling. Sometimes you get somewhat like electric feel to it, just the quiet sitting and watching your breath…. Actually, even if you just do this but like you do it every day, and you do it for a couple of hours every day, and so on and so on– at the beginning you are very much in the psychological state. You’re just thinking of this and thinking of that.
And then at the moment, when these things start to settle a little –you like a glass, water and mixed and then it settles and becomes more clear and more transparent. When that stage starts to happen, things start to circulate in your body, that’s like basically what is the whole Qi.
These things are very real.
So that brings me to the reaction to the experience. The culture we live in, now I’m talking well, city culture, you know like a technological society. It blunts us to a lot of our experiences.
If you live in nature, and you have to live to survive in with nature. Your senses are much much more refined than the kind of senses that we may have like you know living in the cities. So in a certain way we again we colonised our minds and even now I still realise how much my mind is colonised
Very, very, big learning process also…..because you start to realise I do have an innate intelligence, my body does understand certain things, OK. You have to put the awareness. It’s not that you don’t have to do anything. You have to put the awareness. You have to try to listen. You have to practice. It’s not just coming like if you don’t do anything. And once you know little by little to learn, to make the difference between what is your illusions, and what things are real, in those what you feel.
We are not gods, we are not the masters of nature, or the kings of nature, no we are just a part of it, a very humble tiny part it.
Humility, the importance of humility.
You recognise yourself as a wonder of the universe. It’s amazing. And the more humble you become, in a certain way, the more beautiful the whole thing becomes.
Ajay Rastogi and I went to Cambridge University and had the honour to be shown around David Attenbourough House and the Department of Geography by Judith Schleicher, research associate at Cambridge University. Judith is also a regular meditator and helped Ajay and I hold an open nature mindfulness session and seminar to MA students. Judith’s work looks at the links between environment and human wellbeing. The pursuit of human wellbeing is one of the primary goals for Society and is a key focus of the #SustainableDevelopmentGoals (#SDGs), adopted in 2015.
Transcript of Judith Schleicher, ON INNER RESILIENCE
I’m Judith Schleicher. I am a postdoc in the Geography department here in the University of Cambridge and I also work together currently as a consultant with U.N. Environment world conservation monitoring centre. I’ve always been interested in tropical forests the diversity the people who live there the cultural diversity biodiversity everything and trying to protect that and also understanding people and the relationship with them better.
When I was doing my PhD I started meditating a lot and then when there was opportunity to work on the relationship between nature and people after my page that just seemed to bring all these things together.
From this location what we can see is concrete and a parking lot. And you know if that’s the environment people grow up and we even get less connected with age I think that not only has a very negative impact on our passive development in our personal growth and our society but it also means that in the future we might care even less about what we have left. I think what is particularly important is that we also look inwards we need to think about ourselves our own well-being and work on making the changes from within. And then we can make changes beyond that. And so I think those are the kind of things that really need to be part of our education system how we grow up. What are the things that really matter in our lives.
Children spend so much time in schools being taught so many things that are just involving our intellect in terms of thinking about it but they don’t really think about how do we build emotional resilience how do we think about our wellbeing how do we think about it own mindset. Really taking care of that is so important. And if we could make that a fundamental part of a person’s life when they grow up from where they grew up I think that would be a huge positive change.
I would love to see for example mindfulness a meditation being part of the normal school curriculum and then people start thinking about what is it that matters in my life.
And what are the things that are important.
We really internalise all of those things and then we can also have the discussion at a much broader scale. As a community scale to society scale as a national scale of which the direction we want to go into. But it really has to start at a personal level. So. Many people are not familiar with it and they don’t really know what it means. They might as you said for example Buddhism whether they have religious connotations when it doesn’t have to.
It can be secular. Nothing to do with religion. Spiritual doesn’t mean that you have to but even one specific religion. It can be really challenging to work in conservation because you’re always fighting an uphill battle. Basically you’re always confronted with bad news and also the way often we talk about it is in a very negative way.
I was improving my fieldwork and lots of things were going wrong. And then my friend said who’s been meditating for a very long time. She’d started when she was a teenager and she said oh there’s this meditation course. Ten day silent course coming up, and in Lima where are, It’s like why didn’t you just do it? I was like sure I’d never thought about what meditation is or anything. So I was like Sure. And then one night I said I was like Why would I do that.
I just did this 10-day course without knowing anything about it. I didn’t know what meditation was. I had no idea what I would get myself into. I was amazing experience life changing. I mean in a 10 day course you go through so many things and ups and downs but every minute you put into it it’s worth it. I had so many positives but the strongest one was definitely this sense of inner peace that I’ve never felt that way before.
Not only just knowing but really feeling that happiness or contentment has nothing to do with anything external.
And of course, that’s things that we might intellectually know but really feeling it is a very different things and experiencing it. You know of course there is always daily struggles of internalising it. And that will continue that knowing that is a very big gift to experience. I’ve done a few of these courses and every time at the end it’s just so nice when you haven’t talked for while.
For 10 days as your mind is just so focussed and so clear and you realise how we are impacted by all this chatter and so much information being fed into our brain all the time you really realise what the impact is. As soon as you start talking your mind just goes crazy.
One very important first step is awareness. so you know when you’re saying that you feel you become more sensitive but maybe you’ve just become aware of something that was always there as just that before you weren’t aware of it. So that means you couldn’t look after your body in the way that it needed attention maybe otherwise. You know. The same processes might have gone on is just that you wouldn’t have been aware of the impact it had on you. I mean I can totally connect with what you said about nature providing that space where you can develop all these things. Many of the things that I experienced through meditation of I guess they just came naturally in nature before. If I sit in a forest which is the environment I love, I feel never alone. I can feel alone be surrounded by lots of people are being in a non-natural environment. But I will not feel alone if I’m just in a forest and just being. Whereas in our society we always tool we have to be productive. We have to be doing we have to be doing things. It’s much more healthy to move away from that at least some time and just be be it with nature or be it with other people. And that is what ultimately creates contentment and happiness from within. And Nature provides the natural space for doing that.
Your mind is just in the moment.
The meditation course where I was helping over the years, so I was in the kitchen we were cooking 430 140 people. Which is it can be very demanding because you know cooking for so many people and very strict, strict time slots is probably what many people would call a stressful environment with people I’ve never worked together with but they were all meditators and they’re all aware or at least much more conscious about these things. And it was not only a work very well it was also good fun and we were great teamwork. So, if I could translate that into my day to day world everyone would be amazing.
I started meditation 7 years ago. I meditate daily at least one hour a day sometimes more. I mean it makes a huge difference to my day to day life. And it’s also made a huge difference of how I probably think about conservation.
Before I started meditating all that gloom and doom rhetoric sometimes can be really disempowering and make you feel just really difficult to think that you can really make a positive change in what if you don’t.
So that is very difficult sometimes to grasp. With meditation I also had a sense that you know we’ll be fine eventually, and nature will be able to cope whether humans were kept to cope. That’s a different question. I guess yes it made me more peaceful from within that I can do whatever I can in my possibilities to fight for a more just and more environmentally sustainable world. But I can be fine with whatever happens.
The inauguration lunch of the Tasting India Symposium in Delhi, last December 2017, was at Roseate Farm; a venture into small-scale organic farming and the ‘heart project’ of Mrs. Radha Bhatia, Chairperson of the Bird Group that owns the family of Roseate hotels. The farm supplies the Roseate hotels in Delhi with organic produce. Tasting India is a platform and symposium founded by the Cultural Curator, Sanjoo Malhotra and Food Writer, Sourish Bhattacharyya.
Sanjoo and Sourish are on a roll, to say the least. Tasting India has the highest ambitions to create a sustainable food culture in India. It is actively connecting all types of stakeholders working within organic food production; from small-scale farming that builds local community resilience, to food distribution such as independent food brands, farmers markets, coops for local crafts and traditions, to experience promoting regional and cultural diversity, such as education, chefs working with seasonality, eco-tourism and environmental sustainability, and last but not least- NGOs working with human ecology, from gender and identity to food sharing.
A happy day for Roseate Hotel’s Chef Nishant Choubey.
The symposium’s launch meal was a tasting menu and journey into Ayurvedic thought, designed by Chef Nishant Choubey, as representative of the produce from the idyllic farm settings.
Renowned food expert Professor Pushpesh Pant explained: “The concept of the meal is from ‘farm to plate’ – in times gone by everyone in India ate like that. Whatever was grown in the kitchen garden came directly to the dinner table. But right now, it’s only the super-rich who seem to be able to eat completely organically grown, pesticide-free, fresh food, grown from a nearby farm, with all the nutrients that rich, clean soil gives.”
Everyone can still eat like this if they keep two things in mind, the professor says.
“Eat seasonally, and eat regionally. Eat what you get locally in that season, buy your produce and then explore your creativity to see what you can do with what is in season.”
The word Ayurveda is Sanskrit, meaning ‘life-knowledge’. It’s a complete system of how to maintain health and balance in life, the philosophy of health at the heart of Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism, and permeates every aspect of life, not least of all, food.
Simple yet delicious Gobhi Keema Adraki, Cauliflower and minced ginger.
Food is at the centre of life. It is pleasure and it is nutrition. It is culture and identity. In the Ayurveda tradition, food functions to build a healthy metabolism, by moderating foods that can be harmful to the mind or body. When you consider the Ayurveda way of food, you will see an overlap with cultures from all over the world. Food is life, food is medicine. A nutritious and balanced diet can limit diseases stemming from internal inflammation.
The Professor concludes: “You do not have to choose between a healthy life and a pleasurable life; it is part of a healthy, balanced life to enjoy food! Life is meant to be enjoyed, and taking pleasure in life is part of finding balance.”
Ayurveda; 1000-year-old Systems Thinking The Ayurveda approach to food is known as a ‘Sattvic’ diet or ‘yogic’ diet. It is supposed to be a conscious, holistic approach, from producing to consuming, that today we call ‘from farm to table.’ But from farm to table is nothing new- this is the way everyone used to eat and the way some rural communities still support themselves.
The diet itself has an innate awareness of the connectedness to nature and interconnectivity with community upon which we all rely. It places emphasis on nurturing the essential: using seasonal and local foods from your own kitchen garden or village farm. It’s about ethics and knowledge of where the food comes from and where the waste goes.
A Sattvic diet is, therefore, vegetarian, as there is no need to slaughter animals to maintain our health. Cows are an intrinsic part of the organic farm though; the bullocks are used for ploughing, the cows give milk, and both produce natural fertilizer from vegetable scraps. It’s the small-scale organic farming system that fed the whole of India until the 1960’s. It’s a system that could work today, if we value and support the work of our farmers, and create efficient systems and infrastructures that get their produce to market.
The pickles were amazing! To call them mere pickles feels like an injustice.
The Six Tastes of Ayurveda Most of us who have heard about Ayurveda have heard about the three doshas, or three elements called Vata, Pitta and Kapha. When the doshas are in balance, a person can reach optimal health, while imbalance of the doshas provokes disease. Or as the saying goes: ‘You are what you eat.’ What was new to me were the 6 Rasas, or 6 tastes of Ayurveda, that balance the three elements in our bodies. These are Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, and Astringent.
A dish with humble origins; Khichra, a beautifully delicate and ‘more-ish’ porridge of lentils, rice and quinoa.
A chef working with Indian cuisine not only needs to know about the flavours of food, that make food pleasurable, but also the medicinal values of those foods and their effect on the body in combination. It’s a fundamental difference between traditional and modern eating habits all over the world. In the past, the person who prepares food is the guardian of our health. Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives.
Chef Nishant Choubey adds: “Today, as we eat out in a variety of places, the responsibility for our health and nutrition has shifted to the individual. More and more, food is designed to be enticing but not nutritional. Food has to be both, or it is empty of meaning.”
Many of us dream of quitting our jobs and leaving the city, but how many of us manage to do it? I asked Innovation Strategist, Karina Vissonova, how she and her partner Aron designed ‘the good life.’
Q: What was your childhood like?
A: I grew up in Latvia. I played in our family vegetable garden since I could walk, and was outdoors all year round. As a teenager in Riga, I spent every free minute with my friends making fires on the beach or partying in the forest.
Q: Why did you move away?
A: I studied in Copenhagen and was recruited right away into a job in innovation, that was still a relatively new field at the time. I got to work with some amazing professionals – architects, designers, and thought leaders. It was like working with rock stars! But Copenhagen was never really ‘my town,’ despite all the ‘goodies’ that came with life in the city. It felt like my lifestyle was bought, somehow.
Q: How did your job evolve your thinking?
A: I found it challenging to accept that so many great ideas, which would truly help people to live a better and more sustainable everyday life, would get chiselled down to fit into existing production systems. It’s as if we design for machines rather than people. We have all the technologies we need, but we have heavy, outdated systems that are resistant to change. I started wondering what else I could do.
Q: So you decided to leave your job?
A: Not immediately, but I knew I needed to change my own path. I wanted to be able to seek answers to the ‘big’ questions. Eventually Aron and I decided to make the leap and move to the countryside in Hungary. Aron is half Hungarian, but it wasn’t particularly about living in Hungary, it was about pursuing a quality of life with less, and rediscovering ourselves without a professional identity tag. We moved in the middle of winter, without TV or internet. It was the most silent 3 months of my life!
PAP Wines Garden Restaurant- Under the Volcano.
Q: How did you cope with that silence?
A: Just by giving it a chance. We missed our friends, but we were also in love with our new home on the hill. In the Spring, I started gardening. Portuguese friends had told me about permaculture, and so I spent hours on YouTube learning everything I could. My first garden was a mandala garden; a beautiful, unruly patch. I was the laughing stock of the neighbourhood at first, but when my neighbours saw how my garden was flourishing, even during periods of drought, they switched to permaculture methods. I also practice companion planting, where you pair plants that can support each other with nutrition and healthy insect populations; my strawberries grew together with spinach, for example. It’s pretty in its own wild way.
Aron selling at the Farmer’s Market – from chai and chutney to wine, 2017.
Q: So your food brand evolved almost by accident?
A: Yes! Suddenly we had all this surplus produce so we started making condiments to sell at the farmer’s market. We made our own labels and suddenly we had a brand!
Q: What came next?
A: One day, Aron announced, “Do you realise we are living in one of the world’s very famous wine growing volcanic regions? We should make wine!” My response was a hesitant ‘OK…’ Aron went to work for a local wine maker, to learn the ropes. A year later, Aron made his first wine, a ruby coloured Pinot Noir. We made 300 bottles. It was excellent. We couldn’t believe it. It was like we had the volcano gods on our side!
A selection of PAP Wines.
Q: And it’s organic?
A: The wine is organic, yes, and with a low sulphite content, but for us it’s not about labelling our product as ‘organic’ or getting expensive certifications, it’s just about being true to the traditional, artisanal wine-making methods. We want to make the most honest and highest quality wine we can, while caring for the land. Many of the new wine makers here follow regenerative farming methods – it’s far less costly and far more effective.
Aron in the kitchen, January 2017. Photo by Alexandra Heim.
Q: When did you decide to open the restaurant?
A: Our wines became commercially successful within 2 years, and our garden was abundant. It was a natural progression to pursue Aron’s dream of having a small restaurant. He is an exceptional chef, albeit with no formal training. Aron had learnt to cook regional dishes, in Tamil Nadu, in the south of India, and in Himachal Pradesh, up in the North, in the foothills of the Himalayas. This influenced our concept – Indian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean vegetarian tapas-sized dishes served with local wines . We just offered our own home cooking. We opened for guests last summer and it turned to be the busiest summer of our lives!
Q: How does your life today compare with life in the city?
A: Countryside offers an unveiled life, a connection to oneself and the systems that let you survive. Leo Tolstoy wrote about the division of intellectual and physical labour, and the need to experience both to acquire true wisdom. I couldn’t agree more. I scribble away about sustainability, but I feel that it is the experience of working the land and being part of a community that entitles me to write about sustainability.
PAP’s ceramic plates and Aron’s samosas. Photo by Alexandra Heim.
Q: What are your plans now?
A: I want to continue writing and consulting. I still have more questions than I have answers, and I get the feeling others do too. But we need to ask the right questions. If I can attend to the vineyards and the garden during the season, run our little home restaurant, and write for the rest of the time, I will be a very happy and lucky person.
Karina and Aron, Pinot Noir harvest 2017.
Q: Any advice to someone wanting to make a total change in their lives?
A: Dream! Plan big and trust your intuition. Life is unpredictable but it’s also full of opportunities. You just need to have the courage to believe in yourself.
These days, we have a false sense of security because of social transparency, where events and emotions that used to be very private are always on a display on social media. We have an impression that we are emotionally connected to other people, which also gives the false impression of a safety net. I find that such a net, if it indeed exists, is very thin.
Despite social media, we are more dependent on relationships in our physical communities than we realise – and the support that they can provide. Nurture real connections. Value where the things in your life come from and go to. When taking a life changing step, make sure your ties are offline as much as online.
Images: Alexandra Heim and otherwise, Karina’s own.