Sunday, 28 November 2010

Ancient wisdom

Since my last post I've been chilling out in Mcleodganj, current home of the exiled Dalai Lama. Although we spent some of our time her being sick (a sad but almost inevitable part of travel in a country like India) we've had some great times too, stationed in the foothills of the Himalayas (or Himalaya, as I've heard is more correct).

On the way back from the doctors there we got a stunning view of the Himalayas (Himalaya), rising like a white jagged wall, the tops piercing an emergent full moon. It was beautiful. We also had our first car accident - a low speed one at what seemed to be Saturday rush hour, where a car was pulling out into a busy street and hit my door as we drove in front of it. He'd be clearly at fault in NZ, but after some yelling outside our window, some hand holding and calming down, our driver moved on; it seemed it was declared that neither were at fault.

On one of our first mornings back into a little better health, we took a walk, thinking we were headed to the Dalai Lama's residence. We decided to go down the path where everyone else was going, mostly murmuring old Tibetans, hunch over, and prayer beads slowly filtering through their fingers. It was a magical place. A slight mist, piles of white painted rocks, carved rocks with Tibetan inscriptions, and hundreds of prayer flags in the trees. A truly quiet place for contemplation.

We rounded a corner, and there were monkeys, birds, cows and dogs; it felt like the Garden of Eden. we kept walking, past beggars, past mantra wheels, and back into reality. We walked passed a temple which we were unsure about, and went back up the hill. We missed the Dalai Lama's, but found a surprising place which was almost worthy of the millennia-old Tibetan culture.

The next day we set out again, and this time we found His Holiness's residence. Right at the end of the path, where we walked past. Inside were people lining up with green passports, getting large pink ballot papers, and placing them in big green metal boxes. The Tibetan Government, in exile after the Chinese took over around 1950, was having primary elections.

Inside the temple were mantra wheels, statues of Buddhist deities, and hundreds of volumes and ancient science, wisdom and scriptures. I always enjoy temples and churches, no matter which religion they are from. They are great places for contemplation and stillness, something we desperately need in modern, Western, atheist lives. If I could, I'd have my own local place, which I could go to every morning, or every week, and just do some meditation. Although the meaning and my knowledge of so much of this stuff is so limited, these places do inspire something deep within you - and it is especially amazing to see so many exiled Tibetans, striving to minimise suffering of themselves and others, but suffering so much under the Chinese rule that has tried to crush their culture, and take their land for its incredible natural resources.

It's also inspiring to see so much ancient knowledge and wisdom in a place like that. So much knowledge, unknown to us in the West, in New Zealand, and yet so much value in it. Maybe it possesses answers for us all in the modern age, an age when we desperately need to change course and stop taking from future generations. The Dalai Lama certainly thinks so.

Friday, 19 November 2010

From economics to harsh reality: my last week

So I finally have a chance to post - would love to show you my pictures, but will have to leave it till another time. I write from northern India, Dharamshala, where I find myself and my girlfriend Raven, after a week of travelling.

Since my last post I finished exams (just found I got an A+ in one of them, which is awesome), went to a Ecological Economics conference run by the Green Party of Aotearoa, and then shipped off to India (OK, flew. Sorry future generations.)

The Ecological Economics conference was an interesting way to spend time the day after my last exam (on more conventional macroeconomics) but I couldn't pass up the chance of seeing David Suzuki speak. He's an inspirational speaker, and started the conference with putting us within a bio-centric perspective. Instead of the economy, society and the environment being three interlocking, equally-sized circles, a more accurate model, he suggested, was one big circle, signifying the biosphere, and thirty million circles within it - one for each species. The human one though, takes up 40% of the area, and is rapidly expanding. Population and consumption of resources by humans has sky-rocketed almost vertically and many times in just 200 years - a tiny blip of time in the 150 000 or so years of modern humans. Although lost on some other speakers in the conference unfortunately, Suzuki also pointed out that 80% of resource-use is by the wealthiest 20% of the worlds population - a fact no leader of a wealthy country will freely admit. And so a few days later I was off to where the rubber meets the road in this reality - India.

India is one of the great emerging economies, with a high economic growth rate, a poor population overall, around one billion inhabitants, and an emerging wealthy class, taking more than their fare share. I arrived late at night in Delhi, after a day tour around Singapore, which also has a high growth rate, but is more wealthy overall. Four million people situated on a tiny island, with 90% housed apartments in the sky through a government scheme. It's a very clean and wealthy city, with a mind-bogglingly busy port, and an ironically interventionist, single-part government; ironic given it's incredibly high rate of economic growth. It was a great juxtaposition from the city we were about to find ourselves in.

We had heard Delhi was a horrible place from many different people before we got there, and we arrived a quite Indian man from our hotel to pick us up and take us there. The ride from the airport felt like a destruction derby - with less destruction, and more derby, but the car with the front bumper hanging on by a couple of screws, squealing around beside us, certainly increased the destruction side of things. They are incredibly skilled drivers, as we were to discover, weaving in and out of optimistically-painted lane dividers, fitting in as many vehicles into a small space as possible, and beeping to say "I'm coming through!" rather than relying on the silent and leisurely indicators we use in the West. Our room was nice - three star, and we quickly fell asleep.

Our first day was a bit of a walk to get orientated, around Conaught Place, near our hotel. Dogs, dirt, and toilet smell all through the street. Many an eager rickshaw driver, tout and salesman tried to sell us something, or convince us to use a "Government" tourist bureau. Lots of people complimented my beard before trying their tricks - the next day it was Raven's Indian dress she bought the day before to fit in more appropriately with the culture. Despite our best efforts we were screwed over a couple of times - something that gets easier to avoid the more time you spend in a place. I thought this was free market capitalism at its best - game theory of each person trying to screw over the other, especially as they don't think they will ever see you again in the vast city of millions. Needless to say it was quite horrible.

We got to the Red Fort and a Muslim temple on day two. It was also the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, where they sacrifice animals (best to read the link to get a less simple an naive account...). Coincidentally there were lots of goats being traded that day, and lead around the city to people's homes or wherever. We ate some spicy food and gave ourselves horrible stomach pains, and the next day got the hell out of there, to our relief.

Yesterday we flew into Dharamshala, and got a taxi to just north of it, Mcleodganj. Here the Dalai Lama resides, we're at the foot of the Himalayas, and everything is Free Tibet. It's a nice quiet place - slightly spoiled by all the rubbish and fast traffic through its narrow one-way roads - but it's great to be here. We're here for at least the next week, and the internet is surprisingly good, so you'll hear from me soon!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

I'm back!

So there's been a break in my blogging this year, but I'm back in action and hopefully more regularly! I'm going to India shortly for six weeks of awesomeness before Christmas, so shall endeavour to blog from there to tell you of my wonderful adventures.

I also went to Leonard Cohen's concert on Halloween in Wellington (recognise the faceless man in the low quality cellphone picture?). The third row seat was pretty sweet, but it didn't quite reach the heights of his first concert. Nevertheless, it was another amazing night from an amazing man!

Anyway, to celebrate nice weather, poetry, a new beginning and the shaky isles, here's a poem I wrote a few years ago:

Here's to another night

She's preparing for the night
A flash of her peach pink underwear
As she changes into a black dress
And puts on her yellow pears which hug a circle around the harbour

Houses clutched into her bossom
Hollowed into her mangled hills
She shows off her curves
Draped in seductive black against the grey blue sky

Her streets are crumpled
Cracked and peeling like bits of skin
I trust her - my friend, my lover
Walking on her solid, moving ground

Birds chirping, a still night
The smell of a breeze in the air
Relationships drifting together, apart
Around like evaporation

A strange day, drips of time
Leaking on people, on love
Thoughts winding through stars
Through lives going on

Wellington! she shouts
Then she grumbles at a passing aeroplane
The night takes all with it
We celebrate with a glass of harbour champagne

Monday, 25 January 2010

No-Hopenhagen? COP-out? The UN FCCC-ed up?

It's now just over a month since I got back from Copenhagen at what was the experience of a lifetime. The COP15, the event that was built up to be where world leaders decide whether to save us all, or sign a suicide pact. So, I've had some time for reflection.

Here are the main things I learnt from the mad house of the UNFCCC:

1. Every country is in it for themselves - they just have differing analyses of what that actually means. In the case of China, it appears they believed their economic growth to help them become a superpower in the future was more important than the climate which that will be based on. The US was similar in terms of the minor cuts they were willing to commit to. And countries like the Maldives realised that they needed a deal in Copenhagen to stop from drowning under rising seas. Capitalism is no small player in creating these differing world views, and as always the poor and vulnerable loose out, the rich and powerful who win, no matter how stupid they actually are. We need to keep pushing for a recognition that the collective good being put first will increase all our prosperity.

2. The UNFCCC process could work, and work well, if countries were not subject to the gross illogicalities I just described.

3. Carbon trading is worse than I thought. It could work well if it wasn't subject to the political process - but that's the case with most things! There are so many outs for rich but selfish countries like New Zealand to exploit (Clean Development Mechanism, REDD, and other such flexibility mechanisms) depending on the system (ie the one that the current NZ government supports) emissions could continue to sky rocket. No wonder Minister for Climate Change Issues Nick Smith is so keen on many of these things.

4. The solutions are out there, but it's up to the people to lead. And they are. This is too big to give up on, so lets keep working towards climate justice, and keep coming up with ideas. We're closer than we think, and there's a massive global movement on what Desmund Tutu called "the winning side" - the side where we get to keep a stable climate, and make a more equitable world! It was fantastic to see so many thousands of young people and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Copenhagen supporting this winning effort.

5. There's a lot of smart people out there, but there's also some wackos... Climate change deniers can join the many other crazy conspiracy theorists and retire to their tight-knit communities of nonsense!

6. The Copenhagen Accord said and achieved very little. However, it is political will that is most important if we are to ever reach an agreement for a stable climate. Is there political will? More than we've ever seen. Is this enough? No.

7. But, with the Copenhagen Accord being the only thing to come out of Copenhagen, there seems to be even more uncertainty than there was before Copenhagen - and that was a huge amount. This uncertainty is bad for the climate, bad for us, and bad for business. Who knows what will happen this year?

8. The Green movement is needed now more than ever before.

I leave you with some pictures which contain memories which I will always cherish.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Don't allow factory farming of cows in NZ!

Hi Nick,

It was nice meeting you in Copenhagen as part of the New Zealand Youth Delegation. Being there made me realise how important New Zealand's reputation is overseas. People were surprised when I told them how polluted our rivers are, and how we are one of the worst countries in the world for per-capita emissions. At least we still have free-roaming grass-fed livestock here though, and that was always reassuring. Let's make sure our vital image doesn't fall over by allowing factory farming to occur here!

Yours Truly,

PS To my blog readers - you can send Nick an e-card like mine from here!

PPS To my blog readers - sorry I haven't done a post-COP follow post yet. I'll try to soon, after a lot of reflection time, I tell you what.