February 26, 2011

Mental Fight

An anti-spell for the twenty-first century 

Poem by Ben Okri

Nigerian poet and writer - Ben Okri (b.1959)

(An excerpt)

Our future is greater than our past
So far we have mostly misapplied
The powers of the mind
We have under-applied
The wonders of the human spirit.
The mind that created pyramids,
Warfare, great art, and science,
Has not yet reached maturity.
Everything we have done till now
Merely suggests the power of the human
Mind in its infancy.

We are not defined by our failures.
Rivers have changed their courses.
There are revolutions in the heavens,
Among the stars, all the time.
New  worlds are constantly being born.
What we call civilization
Is only ten years old
In the mind of an oak tree,
And a minute old
To a distant start.
Tradition doesn't have to weigh us down.
We weigh ourselves down with tradition,
With the past, with past failures,
Past forms, past perceptions.
We have made these things;
We can unmake them.


We must not think ourselves victims,
Disadvantaged, held back -
Because of race, colour, creed,
Education, class, gender,
Religion, height, or age.
The world is not made of labels.
The world, from now on,
Will be made through the mind.
Through great dreaming, great loving
And masterly application.
Those who transcend their apparent limitations.
Are greater than those who apparently
Have little to transcend.
Our handicaps can be the seed of our glories
We shouldn't deny them.
We should embrace them,
Embrace our marginalisation,
Our invisibility, our powerlessness
Embrace our handicaps, and use them,
And go beyond them,
For they could well be the key
To some of the most beautiful energies
That we have been given.
Accept no limitations to our human potential.
We have the power of solar systems
In our minds.
Our rage is powerful.
Our love is mighty.
Our desire to survive is awesome.
Our quest for freedom is noble, and great.

And just as astonishing is the knowledge
That we are, more or less,
The makers of the future.
We create what time will frame.
And a beautiful dream, shaped
And realised by a beautiful mind,
Is one of the greatest gifts.
We can make to our fellow beings.

The new era is already here:
Here the new time begins anew.
The new era happens every day,
Every day is a new world,
A new calendar.
All great moments, all great eras,
Are just every moment
And every day writ large.
Thousands of years of loving, failing, killing,
Creating, surprising, oppressing,
And thinking ought now to start
To bear fruit, to deliver their rich harvest.

Will you be at the harvest,
Among the gatherers of new fruits?
Then you must begin today to remake
Your mental and spiritual world,
And join the warriors and celebrants
Of freedom, realisers of great dreams.

You can't remake the world
Without remaking yourself.
Each new era begins within.
It is an inward event,
With unsuspected possibilities
For inner liberation.
We could use it to turn on
Our inward lights.
We could use it to use even the dark
And negative things positively.
We could use the new era
To clean our eyes,
To see the world differently,
To see ourselves more clearly.
Only free people can make a free world.
Infect the world with your light.
Help fulfill the golden prophecies.
Press forward the human genius.
Our future is greater than our past.

Already the future is converging with the past.
Already the world is converging.
The diverse ways of the world
Will create wonderful new forms,
Lovely cultural explosions
In the centuries to come.
Already I sense future forms of art,
Of painting, sculpture, humour.
Already I sense future novels,
Plays, poems, dances.
Already I sense the great orchestras
Of humanity, a world symphony,
A world jam, in which the diverse
Genius of the human race -
Its rich tapestry of differences -
Will combine, weave, heighten,
Harmonise all its varied ways
And bring about a universal flowering
In all the vast numbers of disciplines
And among the unnumbered peoples.
Already I can hear this distant music
Of the future,
The magic poetry of time,
The distillation of all our different gifts.

And because we have too much information,
And no clear direction;
Too many facts,
And not enough faith;
Too much confusion,
And crave clear vision;
Too many fears,
And not enough light-
I whisper to myself modest maxims
As thought-friends for a new age.
   See clearly, think clearly.
   Face pleasant and unpleasant truths;
   Face reality.
   Free the past.
   Catch up with ourselves.
   Never cease from upward striving.
   Don't be afraid to love, or be loved.
   As within, so without.
   We owe life abundant happiness.

The illusion of time will give away
To the reality of time...
And time present is made
Before time becomes present.
For all time is here, now,
In our awakening.


In the kingdom of this world,
We can still astonish the gods in humanity
And be the stuff of future legends,
If we but dare to be real,
And have the courage to see
That this is the time to dream
The best dream of them all.

February 15, 2011

A Blue Economy


I stumbled upon a quote by Jonas Salk (in a TED lecture by Ken Robinson):
"If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish."
It should give us many moments to pause. Picking up where I left last week with the story of my self-created environmental hero, I want to push onward. The most depressing aspect of the global warming scenario we were given by our teacher in middle school was that we felt utterly helpless. And I, as noted in my essay from that time, felt an intense sense of self-loathing - or human loathing. Human beings only seemed to know how to take, take, and take - like narcissistic children.

We recycle, drive a hybrid car, support WWF to save some tigers, and give aid to poor countries. But it seems to be a Sisyphean task. We are putting out fires ten places while a thousand more are starting. A symptomatic treatment of environmental problems is insufficient - a systemic approach is clearly needed. We, human beings, basically need to reinvent our societies and ourselves.

Luckily, there are plenty of great actors and inventors out there, modeling interesting futures for all of us. Gunter Pauli is one such inspirational pathfinder. He proposes the Blue Economy as a new path.

But before we come to the Blue Economy, let's retrace our steps through the Red and the Green Economies. Pauli refers to the currently dominating corporate economy as the Red Economy. It is an economy based on what is taught in business schools around the world: to structure human relations in corporations to maximize (corporate) profit - the mantra being core business, core competence, and a never-ending growth of profit margin. It gives the corporations a license to disregard the world and operate as they please to maximize their own ends. The Red Economy is disconnected from the natural environment and haunted by externalities like waste, pollution and destruction of natural habitat and human societies.

As a young businessman Gunter was set on changing this business model to something more benign. He was going to front the Green Economy - an economy that would pollute less and produce less waste. He founded Ecover in the early 90s - it quickly became a leading manufacturer of ecological cleaning and washing products. In addition to produce ecological products, Pauli and his team created a "green factory" out of recycled material in which energy use was minimized, employees were rewarded for car-pooling, etc.
                     However, Pauli soon realized that although the products Ecover were producing might be biodegradable - it was a far cry from being a sustainable business. The main reason for this being that the core ingredient of the products (fatty acids) is derived from palm oil. The global market for cheap palm oil is a major driver of rain forest destruction and, thus most famously, the killing off of orangutans. He realized that business would have to do better. A Green Economy might pollute less or produce less waste - but it still might have a cancer in the system, he concluded. And - his famous analogy - can one say that a thief is good when he steals less? Polluting less is still polluting; killing less is still killing. Doing less bad is still bad, he concludes - and doing bad should be done away with, altogether.

If we teach a person how to fish, in the current economic model, he will OVERFISH. 

Luckily Pauli did not give up. He refused to believe that humans necessarily had to live like parasites on the earth. It is not evil that besets the human race, he concluded, it is ignorance:

We are not the bad people on the earth; we are the ignorant people on the earth. We are recent arrivals on this planet and we are just learning how to behave. But we are still elephants in a porcelain store. We swing around and our tail knocks everything over - and we didn't realize it. So what we need to do is to start connecting to how life exists on earth. Because when we realize how it connects, we can connect again. Today we are disconnected. The challenge that we have is that we have to start connecting. 
                                                           From Gunter Pauli's TEDxTalk in Budapest, 2010

So how to connect to our natural environments? Look to nature.
                The Blue Economy is an economy based the logic of natural systems.  It goes beyond preservation of the environment and engages regeneration. In an economic system that emulates ecosystems we will not see unemployment due to inexperience, young or old age, or handicap. Everybody will contribute at the level of their ability. All human potential will be engaged in a symbiotic relationship with the earth. Not only is it a viable system, it is more satisfying, challenging and interesting one. A Blue Economy will be without waste as whatever "waste" is produced will be food for some part of the system.
              A Blue Economy is an economy where the system is much more important than a few, "exceptional" individuals. Everybody can be creative entrepreneurs in an economy that has plenty of resources for all.

...the Blue Economy is about ensuring that ecosystems can maintain their evolutionary path so that all can benefit from nature's endless flow of creativity, adaption, and abundance. It is the young at heart who will seize upon the entrepreneurial opportunities that emulate ecosystems and cascade energy and resources to add value and generate multiple exchange benefits, translating them into income and employment.
                                                           Gunter Pauli, The Blue Economy

Here is one small example of two business graduates who decided not to go into the corporate world, but to create a mushroom business on coffee waste. Their company, Back to the Roots, has won several awards and is an inspirational example of how one can build a business upon blue economic principles.

On Gunter Pauli's websites www.blueeconomy.de and www.zeri.org there are plenty of examples for entrepreneurs. You can also sign up for newsletters and receive Blue Innovation Ideas every two weeks. 

For a short introduction to the Blue Economy, have a look:

Here is a video of Gunter at TEDxTokyo in 2009 where he goes more in depth on what the Blue Economy is about:

In the future I will share more of these inspirational examples here on this blog.

February 3, 2011

How to Save the World: My self-portrait as an environmental hero

I remember very well the day I heard about the green house effect for the first time. That was before we called it global warming. I was in eight grade - the year was 1986 - the year of the Chernobyl disaster and the decade where Europe could see large areas of forests die off due to acid rain. Our teacher brought a copy of a popular science magazine which predicted how the continents with its people would most likely sink into the sea before we would reach old age. She talked about the consequences with a certain glee in her voice, knowing that she would already be dead by then (she was a rather bitter, older woman - not my favorite teacher). If life became depressing with Chernobyl and acid rain, it now descended into a horror movie of apocalyptic dimensions. I remained in deep, troubled silence for the rest of the school day.

My grandparents were at home when I returned from school, but I couldn't communicate with them about it. Although I loved them very much, they had very religious lenses through which they viewed the world. Especially my grandmother. I was sure she would again point out that Doomsday was right around the corner. Hallelujah. I had given up on expressing any of my wonder to them coming back from school. I remember when I was a little bit younger and had come to talk about Darwin and monkeys and such, she shut me up with a "fysj!" (Norwegian for something similar but not quite "yuck!") and a stern look. So on this Day of the Green House Effect I took my dog to my room and just lay down while hugging him. The future seemed like a black hole.

That year I was also taking typing classes as an elective. I felt like I was on the verge of becoming a semi-professional writer as I graduated from my hand-written journal to the typewriter. It had been my habit to re-write a situation I didn't like in my journals (or later, I would even re-write endings to books I thought ended on a sour note). My next writing project was thus in the "Saving the World" genre. I crafted myself as an environmental hero - an omniscient, and close to omnipotent, ecologist - who leads the world onto a new path of Life. I present this piece to you below.

You will notice towards the end of the essay that the young author becomes both a little rushed (the saving of the world happens a little too fast; fingers were probably growing tired or class was about to end) and slightly humble - understanding that it might be a wee bit pretentious to save the world single-handedly. I also modeled the God figure to fit my personal preference - a mild, wise, old man with deep feelings - rather than that of my grandmother (which to me seemed to be a psychopathic God).

I have translated this into English from the original Norwegian version, quite neatly typed on both pages of one page (saving paper and trees in the process). There was no title given to the piece, but if I were to give it a title today, it would be:


I was 14 when I wrote this and I do smile with tenderness towards that kid who tried her best to find a way out of the black hole of misery and death and into a landscape of beauty and magic. So, without further ado, please enjoy - or alternatively, feel free to cringe.

IT was a sunny morning in May; the only movement was the gentle flutter of sheets drying in the cool morning breeze. It was as if the world knew that it could now take a day off; it was deserved – humanity had redeemed itself. Dangers were no longer looming, the animals were watching over the now so pure humans; even the trees cradled the small houses in their dense, luscious branches. Who knows the meaning of danger in this place, I thought to myself as I saw the landscape in all its glory for the first time. 

I put my suitcase on the ground, my eyes were jubilant. We had done it; we sinful human beings had made it! God was proud of us now. I could see him smiling up in the crack of the clouds. The beautiful face which used to be heavy with sorrow was again radiant and open. I could hear him sing to all of us. His song had never been heard, nobody knew that God could sing, except me. I remember from when I was small and afraid of going to bed, afraid of the dark, God sat by me until I fell asleep. I was always anxious that he would leave before I fell asleep, but I should have known better. We had many such nights together, we never spoke, at least not he. He only sat on the edge of my bed with those sad, mild eyes, always listening. And then God sang. He sang so beautifully that the wind fell silent, pausing to listen to its Master. The Master of everything that exists; everything that will ever exist. The wind liked what it heard and joined in with its powerful voice – and I fell asleep…

This happened several times, and right now I had the same feeling, a feeling of safety that would last forever. It didn’t last forever, but it helped me by giving me a glimmer of light in the gray of daily life. Daily life in a world that mainly consisted of egocentric vermin of the species Homo Sapiens, a species dreaded by everything else on the once so glorious earth. But now I was filled with happiness as I looked out over the blue fjord. It had taken many years.

God was right, of course. I was happy now that I had done as he wished. It was after all a calling, not to follow it would be to betray God. But I was weak by nature, so it wasn’t strange that I rejected my calling at first. God was probably disappointed, but he didn’t show it, just told me to think. I was despondent and about to drift into the sea of indifference. The air was sick, I could see that, the trees had lost their will to live, I could see that too, but I cut my feeling string. It hurt, but it was also soothing; as the last drop of blood was wiped away, I knew I would never cry again. Once the feeling string is cut, it cannot grow back.

God came again. I had called and he had come. I cried and he consoled me in his way. The feeling string was back in its place, with a small adjustment that God assured me would only last the length of my calling, and then it would disappear. This adjustment was very important for the outcome, he said, and I understood. 

I liked the adjustment, it enabled me to feel pain when I saw the destruction, but the pain was not as strong as before. I could bear to see a dying river without screaming, I could bear almost anything without becoming sentimental. A person who measures the destruction of the earth in numbers and values it in money cannot be sentimental – otherwise the job will never get done. Thus I became an unsentimental, knowledgeable and loved ecologist – everything in an appropriate mix which enabled me access to most of the environmental scandals. I cleaned up and gave instructions on improvements, how one could invest in clean technology with economic as well as ecological profits. People listened and did as I said. I saw that they had started to learn. It wasn’t only the money that meant something to them now, it was LIFE

During the duration of my work, I only saw God once. It was right after a conference in Leningrad, I had been the only light in a sea of dark faces. Old men and women, tired of constant failure, tired of everything and knowing that nothing would help. Until I arrived. I showed them my model, explained how it worked. They lit up, wanted to believe what I said to be true. That was when I saw God again. I was on my way home and pretty light at heart. He touched me lightly on my shoulder:

You’re doing well.”

I shrugged my shoulders.

It’s going ok, not more than that.”


Why, God, why is it going so slowly? Why can’t you make the earth well again right away?”

I can’t, it’s as simple as that. It has to be a human being who does it, I cannot interfere in such matters. I can’t tell you why, just try to accept it. And a piece of advice from me – you will never win this fight alone, every single person has to join, remember that.

All that has been told is of course abbreviated and modified to make better sense of the event. After all, it is the whole life of a single human being that is compressed to a couple of pages. 

The story talks about God. But you can also call him Allah. The point is that there is something, without defining exactly what or who it is, that has created this earth and the universe. He, she, it or they love all this very much, but – for some reason we are not supposed to know – we are the ones who are responsible for the health of the earth. That’s just the way it is.