Belief Versus Truth (Part 3 of Reflections on Truth & Belief)

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about belief. I believe what I know from my experience – that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, that humans have the capacity for both kindness and cruelty, that pumpkin seeds will turn into pumpkin plants and apple seeds into apple trees, and so on – but I know others believe things that cannot be proven, and this perplexes me.

There are many who believe they will go to heaven when they die because they accept Jesus as their savior. Others believe they will be reincarnated after death. Some believe that the position of the planets determines our personalities at birth and many of our experiences throughout life.

I don’t believe these things. That’s not to say that I know that they are false; rather, I cannot know that they are true because they are not provable or knowable, and because no legitimate scientific studies have demonstrated them to be true. They may be true, but I cannot believe them on faith alone.

I often envy people their faith, but I also want people to be good critical thinkers, and I’ve seen “belief” supersede thinking too often. Belief can shut the door on deeper, more complex, more committed efforts to discover truth and seek not only rational, but also effective solutions to problems. It’s easier to follow the precepts or dogmas of a religion or the latest fad or trend in spirituality (or diet or health modalities) than it is to take a scalpel to the information and beliefs surrounding us and dissect them for truth with commitment and engagement.

We are faced with escalating challenges in our world, including human population growth, global warming, peak oil (at some point, whether past, present or future), alarming rates of species extinction, and so on. Beliefs about contraception, the causes of global warming, and faith in human ingenuity to find more oil (or replace it with new technologies), or in God’s ultimate plan, can actually prevent us from taking wise, courageous, compassionate, creative, and critically aware steps to solve our problems.

When beliefs stand in the way of truth – as they often do – we diminish our capacity to make choices that do the most good and the least harm.

I guess I have at least one belief: that we must challenge our beliefs in pursuit of truth.

~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind

Image courtesy of jam343 via Creative Commons.

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MOGO Tip: Just Say No To Junk Mail

At our house, the arrival of the mail is always eagerly anticipated (I know; kinda sad, huh?). Will there be a note from a friend? The newest edition of one of our favorite magazines? Or, even, hope of hopes, a check?! Usually, though, opening the little door reveals either nothing, or a couple bills and some — yep, you’ve been there — junk mail.

Because we’re pretty good at letting marketers and companies who send us their catalogs know that we don’t want to receive junk mail, my husband and I tend to get less unwanted riffraff in our mailbox than most folks do. But, just like spam and telemarketing calls (even after joining the Do Not Call registry!), those flyers, post cards and carefully-worded letters await us most days, trying to lure us into believing that we can’t live without whatever they have to offer. But, unlike spam and telemarketing calls, junk mail leaves us with a big pile of paper (and sometimes plastic and other non-recyclable packaging) to deal with.

If you are one of the many, the proud, the ones who are fed up with junk mail and ready to take action, there are plenty of ways to reduce your mailbox’s junk habit, including:

  • 41 Pounds will remove your name from up to 95% of junk mail lists for a one-time fee of $41.
  • New Dream gives you tips for opting out of some junk mail, phone solicitation and spam lists.
  • If you have more free time, each time you get junk mail or a catalog, you can call the organization and ask to be taken off their list.
  • The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse gives several suggestions for getting off marketers’ lists.

One broader solution is for there to be a National Do Not Mail Registry, just like the national Do Not Call Registry. ForestEthics has developed a campaign to inform the public and encourage Congress to enact DNMR legislation. In addition to finding a list of facts about the impact of junk mail (I had no idea!), you can find suggestions for taking action,

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Casey Serin.

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Faith & Action (Part 2 of Reflections on Truth & Belief)

This is the opening paragraph of my book, Most Good, Least Harm:
“During my sophomore year in college I embarked upon a quest for inner peace. I yearned for relief from a persistent lack of purpose and meaning in my life. I began to study various philosophies and religions, hoping I would discover within them that elusive inner peace I sought. One evening, I was talking with a rabbi about my struggle to understand and experience faith. He told me not to worry about faith, that it didn’t matter what I believed. ‘What matters,’ he said, ‘is how you live and what you do.’"
Although I appreciate the power and beauty of faith, what matters most to me is what people do, not what they believe. While people’s beliefs influence their actions, it’s not necessary to have faith to do good, just as it’s possible to have faith and do evil.

Some days, I lose faith even in the capacity of my acts to make a difference. In these moments of hopelessness, I could succumb to my desires and allow them to eclipse my values. After all, when I feel despair about the possibilities for creating meaningful change, why bother to do the most good and the least harm? But I’m never really tempted to betray my values in any significant way. Even when I lose hope – or faith, if you will – my acts still represent me, my values, my ideals, my sense of self. To betray these is to betray myself.

But the wonderful thing about acts is that whether or not you have faith, good acts create a MOGO life and contribute to a MOGO world. They bring a similar sense of peace as faith, but they do so in such a concrete manner. I’ve often yearned for the faith that others experience, that allow them to endure the tempests of life with equanimity and peace, but that kind of faith eludes me. Instead I have the power of my choices to do good and bring good and which often serve as a balm against pain because goodness begets a host of positives: joy, gratitude, peacefulness, serenity, laughter, connection, and love.

Whether you are a person of faith or not, what matters most is your acts.

~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind

Image courtesy of mariachisamurai via Creative Commons.

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: Artist Uses Photography to Connect People and Animals

We know that images are incredibly powerful. Photographer Jo-Anne McArthur is using the power of visual media to document how we treat and interact with animals in the "human environment" in order to "break down the barriers that humans have built which allow us to treat non-human animals as objects and not as sentient beings."

McArthur has been photographing our interactions with animals since 1998. Her website offers a collection of her We Animals project work, divided into categories such as "companions," "food animals," "good intentions," "research and vivisection," "rescues," "sanctuary," and so on. McArthur's blog uses some of the photos she's taken and puts them in context, outlining different issues related to animal exploitation, cruelty and oppression, or highlighting the work of organizations and people working for a more compassionate world.

These images are powerful, compelling, heartbreaking, and inspiring and serve as an excellent tool in discussing, exploring and contemplating our relationship with animals...and the kind of world we want.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Farm Sanctuary via Creative Commons.

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Humane Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.

Plaintiffs suing to remove “redskins” trademark receive professional supportIndian Country Today (10/27/09)
“Native American plaintiffs suing to end the trademark of the controversial Redskins National Football League team have gained new support from legal experts, social justice advocates and child psychologists….Based on scholarly evidence, the experts told the court there is ‘extensive and pervasive’ public harm caused by the continued use of Indian mascots in professional sports. ‘Social science research shows that the use of ethnic slurs like ‘redskin’ perpetuates harmful stereotypes and leads to discrimination,’ the authors of the brief wrote."

Kids watching even more televisionNielsen blog (11/26/09)
“American children aged 2-11 are watching more and more television than they have in years. New findings from The Nielsen Company show kids aged 2-5 now spend more than 32 hours a week on average in front of a TV screen. The older segment of that group (ages 6-11) spend a little less time, about 28 hours per week watching TV, due in part that they are more likely to be attending school for longer hours.”
Thanks, Daily Green, for the heads up.

New study says least healthy cereals are ones most marketed to kids - ABC News (10/26/09)
"’If one looks at the rank order list of the worst nutrition cereals it's stunning how the worst cereals are marketed so aggressively to children,’ Kelly Brownell, a co-author of the study, said.”
Thanks,, for the heads up.

Will a Global Climate Change Index help? - Christian Science Monitor (10/26/09)
“’We’ve got these big reports that appear every few years, but few people read them,’ says Mr. Abbasi, a former senior adviser at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an interview. ‘Why not reduce this thing into an easier-to-understand set of indicators that can be weighted and aggregated – a distillation that reveals actual impacts we’re seeing in the field.’”

Ethicist calls for 50% tax on “retail value of all meat” (opinion) – New York Daily News (10/25/09)
“Meat-eaters impose costs on others, and the more meat they eat, the greater the costs. They push up our health insurance premiums, increase Medicare and Medicaid costs for taxpayers, pollute our rivers, threaten the survival of fishing communities in the Gulf of Mexico, push up food prices for the world’s poor, and accelerate climate change.”
Thanks,, for the heads up.

“Victims of human trafficking speak out” - AP (10/23/09)
“Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who opened the event, said the global economic crisis ‘is making the problem worse.’ He urged governments to heed his ‘call to action’ and step up efforts to prevent exploitation, protect victims and pursue traffickers whose conviction rates in most countries ‘are microscopic compared to the scope of the problem.’ The U.N. Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking estimated last year that annual profits from trafficked, forced labor is around $31.6 billion. Some experts say it is now the second-largest illicit business in the world after drugs.”

Teen changemaker helps send Rwandan girls to school Seattle Times (10/22/09)
"’One of the biggest things we have to realize is how privileged we are,’ she said. ‘Going and seeing the difference of how much we have compared to people in impoverished countries gives you the importance of valuing things. Many kids in the U.S. don't have that realization. Once they do, they want to help out.’"

“How to change the world & your work” - U.S. News & World Report (blog) (10/22/09)
“Imagine if everyone woke up and asked themselves, ‘What difference do I feel called to make today?’ What kind of positive impact could that have? I'm excited by the possible cumulative result of people incorporating that question into their decisions. But what really lights me up is that the answer to that question can actually be a source of energy in our careers, and in our lives in general. Far from being solely saintly and altruistic, it can have a significant positive impact on how we experience our own lives. It's the ultimate win/win.”

Changemaker Cheryl Dorsey, President of Echoing Green - U.S. News & World Report (10/22/09)
"’Nancy and I, two women of color, thought, 'How can our most vulnerable citizens not be getting a chance at life?' ‘ Dorsey, now 46, recalls. After many late nights at Oriol's kitchen table, the two launched Family Van in 1992. The mobile health program served 1,292 Boston residents of all ages that first year and now serves about 7,000 annually, doing its part in helping to close the infant mortality gap.”

Companies selling infant formula to make babies “smarter” may cause harm - AlterNet (10/20/09)
“A growing number of parents and medical professionals believe these additives are causing severe reactions in some babies, and it has been repeatedly shown that taking affected babies off DHA/ARA formula makes the problems go away almost immediately. The FDA has received hundreds of letters to this effect by upset parents, even as products containing the additives are being marketed as better than breast milk.”

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David Brower Youth Awards Recognize Today's Young Environmental Leaders

You don't have to look any farther than your own community to find youth engaged in inspiring and effective campaigns and projects to help create a better world. And more organizations are starting to recognize and reward the terrific work that young people are doing. Each year the Brower Youth Awards honor young people, ages 13 to 22, "living in North America who have shown outstanding leadership on a project with positive environmental and social impact."

Winners of this national award receive "a $3,000 cash prize, a trip to California for the award ceremony and wilderness camping trip, and ongoing access to resources and opportunities to further their work at Earth Island Institute."

2009's winners are:

Robin Bryan, 21, who has worked to preserve the East Shore Wilderness Area in Manitoba, Canada, and to stop industrial logging in provincial parks in the territory.

Sierra Crane-Murdoch, 21, who has helped organize coalitions of organizations and communities to build national pressure to transition away from reliance on coal.

Alec Loorz, 15, who became the youngest "Climate Project" presenter (Al Gore's project) and created his own organization, Kids vs. Global Warming, to educate and inspire youth to take positive action.

Diana Lopez, 20, who works for environmental justice and community empowerment in San Antonio, Texas. Diana has been involved in the creation of the Roots of Change community garden, which provides healthy food, education, and a "positive space for community involvement."

Ardasha Shivakumar, 16, who founded an organization to promote the Jatropha curcas as "an ecologically friendly and economically profitable crop" among farmers in rural India. The plant is used to make biofuel.

Hai Vo, 22, who co-founded an organization to help colleges in the U.S. spend their food dollars on food that is "ecologically-sound, community-based, humane and fair."

These six winners were chosen from more than 125 applicants. This is the 10th year for the award, which is named in honor of environmentalist David Brower and is run by the Earth Island Institute.

~ Marsha

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What's Missing in Friedman's Op-Ed on Education

Thomas Friedman's recent New York Times op-ed, "The New Untouchables," brings up an important point: that the failures in our educational system and the current recession are related. He ends his editorial with this:

“Bottom line: We’re not going back to the good old days without fixing our schools as well as our banks.”

The problem, though, is far more nuanced than Friedman suggests. While his essay promotes education that fosters creativity, initiative, and critical thinking -- all things I agree with -- there is a lack of creativity in Friedman’s own solution. We cannot go back to the good old days. Instead, we must move forward to better new days, and we won’t do that by trying to educate solely for flexible thought and innovation within current systems.

Yes, we have huge problems in our educational system that rewards rote learning over creative and critical thinking, skills now relegated to the heroic efforts of especially imaginative teachers who must figure out how to foster creativity and critical thinking when they are burdened with teaching to multiple choice tests that punish creativity. (Imagine what would happen if you took a creative approach to a multiple choice test – you’d be pretty much doomed).

But more than this, we have an even bigger problem with our educational system. We have the wrong goal. Tom Friedman wants us to return to the good old days by being more competitive in the global marketplace, a refrain that’s become cliché. The problem is that we have grave challenges to solve: global warming, rampant species extinction, desertification, deforestation, overpopulation, escalating slave labor, lack of access to enough food and clean water for a billion people, inequitable access to basic resources, to name a few of the biggies.

Making our kids more competitive won’t solve these problems unless we shift the goal of education to include graduating solutionaries for a better world. The good old days actually set the stage for all the problems we face today. They only appeared good because the problems they were causing took some time to appear. Were we to graduate a generation only with the wherewithal to compete better in the global marketplace and work innovatively in essentially the same systems, but without the knowledge, tools, and motivation to change pervasive, entrenched, and destructive systems into ones that are just, peaceable, and sustainable, we would not necessarily produce good days. We might, instead, cause even greater suffering and destruction.

Yes, we need to fix our schools as well as our banks. We need to educate a generation that understands the challenges we face and which has the skills and desire to face them and create a healthy, restored, and humane world. And when we do this, we will create new economic and production systems that bring both prosperity and peace.

~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind

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WorldWatch Report: "Food" Animals Account for 51% of Worldwide Emissions

In 2006 the oft-cited report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, "Livestock's Long Shadow," estimated that 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) could be attributed to raising farmed animals for food. That number caused a lot of people to take notice, and more journalists and bloggers have been writing about the connection between global warming and our food choices, often encouraging readers to reduce their consumption of animals products, if not eliminate it completely. But in the November/December issue of WorldWatch magazine, a new report asserts that the impact is much greater: accounting for around 51% of emissions. The authors of this report, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, note that if their argument is indeed valid, then:

"...replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reducing climate change. In fact, this approach would have far more rapid effects on GHG emissions and their atmospheric concentrations -- and thus on the rate the climate is warming -- than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy." ("Livestock and Climate Change," WorldWatch November/December 2009, p. 11)

The authors outline several what they call "overlooked, undercounted or misallocated" factors from the FAO's report that account for their significantly higher numbers. Some of the factors include:
  • Livestock respiration
  • Land use
  • Methane production
  • Outdated data (not taking into account increased livestock production & consumption)
  • Undercounting of official statistics
  • Flurocarbons needed to cool livestock products
  • Cooking of livestock products
  • Disposal of liquid waste and spoiled products
  • Production, distribution and disposal of byproducts, as well as packaging used for animal products
  • Carbon-intensive medical treatment of illnesses associated with animal consumption.
Not only do the report's authors advocate significantly reducing the production and consumption of animal products, but they also believe that replacing these animal products with animal product analogs should be emphasized.

While the article is an important read for everyone, it also offers an excellent opportunity for students to use their critical thinking skills to explore these issues more deeply. Since this report offers that the FAO report has some weaknesses, students could examine and compare both reports, looking at the data, the sources used, what kinds of factors were included, how conclusions were reached, and so on. Additionally, the authors' assertions of meat and dairy analogs as healthy, appropriate, environmentally-superior replacements for animal products offers a chance to discuss exactly what kinds of foods, produced in what kinds of ways, do the most good and least harm for people, animals and the earth, as well as looking at why the authors are making the recommendations that they do. (For example, why do the authors highlight analogs, rather than fresh, local, organic, whole plant-based foods?)

A discussion of the challenges of how and why people make the food choices they do (such as from habit, tradition and culture) would also be fruitful, as well as considering what kinds of systems, strategies and situations might encourage people to make food choices that have a lower climate change impact.

If you use this article for your humane education work, do let us know how you used it and what the result was.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Watje11.

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Distortions (Part 1 of Reflections on Truth & Belief)

I’ve been a humane educator for over twenty years, and have given hundreds of presentations to students. In the early years of my career, I always gave teachers an evaluation form to complete so that I could improve my presentations. Often a teacher would have her or his class write letters to me after a talk. Some of these have found their way into my books because they’ve been such a testament to the power of humane education to inspire positive changes and actions in young people’s lives.

But this week, I had a new experience in feedback. I gave a couple of presentations at colleges in Portland, Oregon, a few of weeks ago. It turned out that the reason why a group of students was taking copious notes the whole time was because they were receiving extra credit from their economics professor for attending and reflecting upon my MOGO talk. The professor shared the student reflections (names removed) with the organizer of my talks who, with permission, shared them with me. This was the first time I had had the opportunity to read reflections, that were not written to me, from college students about a presentation of mine. In other words, they would probably be the most honest accounts I’d ever read from young adults.

Happily for me, they were really positive, which made my day; but, what struck me, and what I want to write about here, was how many factual errors there were. There were many reflections that included descriptions of things that I hadn’t said. I’ve been guilty of this, too. Even as we take notes, we are missing words and phrases and filtering what we hear through our assumptions and beliefs. We may then disseminate “facts” that are misunderstandings or misinterpretations of what we heard.

Many of us have played the game "Telephone," in which a group stands in a circle and one person whispers a phrase to the next and the phrase gets passed around the circle until, by the end, the phrase is often incomprehensible and has little in common with the original sentence. We think we heard it perfectly and passed it along perfectly, but somewhere along the way it got distorted. Sometimes we know we didn’t hear it quite right, but we (lazily?) fail to pursue the true statement. Sometimes the phrase gets distorted by one or two people; sometimes the distortions happened incrementally. Certainly, some of us hear and attend better than others, but none of us is immune from misunderstanding, mishearing, and misapprehending.

Last year I misquoted a well known environmental advocate and author. Turns out that I had taken careful notes, but I had not clearly delineated this speaker from the one that followed, and I thought my notes from the latter came from the former. My quotes were accurate, but I attributed one to the wrong person. Fortunately, the woman I misquoted saw my blog post and contacted me right away so that I could fix my error.

This is one of the reasons I tell my students – including this group in Portland – not to believe me. Find out for yourself. How much information is distorted along the road to your ears and eyes? How many small errors do we each make that amount to significant mistakes in understanding? We must listen with open minds and not trust what we hear as “truth” until we’ve ascertained its validity for ourselves.

~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind

Image courtesy of costi.

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Grist Interview with Interface CEO Ray Anderson, "Radical Industrialist"

It's great to hear about corporate executives who are committed to making MOGO choices. Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface, a carpet company, has been one of the major role models for corporate social responsibility for more than 10 years. He wants his company to become "zero waste and zero environmental impact." Anderson has a new book out, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist, to try to inspire other business leaders to work toward sustainability.

Recently he did an interview with Grist about his progress and his goals. Little tidbits from the interview:

  • With Interface's sustainability efforts so far, they've saved more than $400 million.
  • Part of Interface's strategy has been making new carpet from old carpet (including old carpets from other manufacturers).
  • 91% of commercial interior designers surveyed said that they prefer carpet with recycled content.

Check out the interview.

What corporations do you know of that aren't greenwashing, but are actually making major positive steps toward socially responsible business practices?

~ Marsha

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Rethinking Recycling

One of the habits we in the U.S. have frequently been proud of is our recycling. Lots of us do it. It’s often one of the first projects students adopt to green their schools. The 3 R’s of Reduce – Reuse – Recycle have become a fond and familiar refrain. We feel good that we can buy stuff and then send the packaging back to become something else, instead of ending up as trash. Tossing that bottle or can into the bin has become almost second nature — something we do without thinking.

Recycling as planet-saver is a great cultural myth, but it’s not the reality. The issue is much more complex.

In its Fall 2007 issue, Green America focused on trash. An especially interesting article in this issue (though I think all their articles are terrific) is the one on “Following the Waste Stream.”

As the article mentions, glass and aluminum can be “perpetually” recycled and paper can be “downcycled” into lower grade products (until the fibers get too short to bind together). (Downcycling means recycling the material into a product of lesser quality.) Plastics are another story. Plastics can only be downcycled into something else once – and that’s only for certain plastics. And the thing that it’s downcycled into can’t be recycled or downcycled.

The article reports that most plastics can’t even be recycled, even though they carry that renowned symbol on the bottom. And even some plastics (and other recyclable materials) that get sent to recycling centers end up in landfills or incinerators. I learned from the article that plastic bags (though I try to avoid them as much as possible anyway), which are happily recycled by so many – are more likely than not shipped overseas, where they end up in incinerators and landfills (so our eco-friendly efforts are contributing to the pollution of other countries).

If you want to reduce your plastic waste, look for tips from blogs like Fake Plastic Fish. For more general waste reduction, consult resources such as Green America's “Getting to Zero Waste” issue, No Impact Man's post of 42 ways to not make trash, and blogs such as 365Daysof Trash.

Recycling is important; but, the more important and essential goal is not creating trash in the first place. Zero waste.

How do you reduce waste in your life?

~ Marsha

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Aikido Seminar: Trusting Our Bodies

I’ve been practicing the martial art Aikido off and on for the past five years. Aikido is different from other martial arts because we don’t learn to attack others or harm our aggressors. An Aikido sensei (Japanese for teacher) won’t teach you how to punch or kick, nor will he or she teach you how to block an attack. Instead, Aikidoists learn to do a few related things: move out of the way and be in a safe place, blend with the attacker and face the same direction (so as to see the situation from the attacker’s point of view), and use the energy from attackers to throw or pin rather than harm them.

Aikido appears complicated, and to the new practitioner, it is far more challenging to learn than the basic kicks, punches and blocks of karate. But Aikido is deceptively simple. Although there are thousands of ways to put together the basic techniques, they all arise from simple principles: blending, using the attackers’ energy to prevent harm to oneself or the attacker, and mixing and matching the same core techniques, depending upon the situation. Simple principles, however, can be extremely challenging to master, as anyone trying to live according to the MOGO principle to do the most good and the least harm to oneself, other people, animals and the environment knows well.

Personally, I find Aikido to both come naturally and be very difficult at the same time. As I watch my sensei demonstrate a technique before we practice it, I have to pay close attention, using my mind to make sense of what I am seeing. What did he do with his hands, his hips, his feet? When exactly did he enter or move out of the way? How did he execute the technique so effortlessly without using strength but rather energy? Stuck in my head as I am, I try to think my body into practice. But this is not necessarily the best way to learn Aikido, even though it is the most obvious.

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a full day Aikido seminar with the extraordinary Konigsberg Sensei, practicing for many hours. By the end I was so tired that I had trouble concentrating on and thinking through what I was seeing Konigsberg Sensei demonstrate. And because I was so tired, I couldn’t muscle my way through anything (not that this works anyway, but even less so by the end of the day). My mind temporarily relaxed, and I found that my Aikido practice began to improve. My body took over where my mind had been, and my body had come to understand things on its own, without the intervention of my mind. This was a revelation.

I spend lots of time in my head. Although I’m a dancer, hiker, runner, ice skater, snowshoer, cross-country skier, etc., I rarely do what Mary Oliver asks in her beautiful poem, “Wild Geese,” to “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Yet, in my exhaustion during the Aikido seminar, I had a moment of this “body grace” in which I trusted my body and it did not fail.

Often, our bodies know more than we think. We would do well to trust them. Intuitions, fears, joy, excitement, anxiety – these are felt and experienced in our bodies, and so we have insight otherwise hidden behind the veils of our clever and easily manipulated minds – that is, if we dare to pay attention to and trust our bodies.

~Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind

Image courtesy of marius.zierold via Creative Commons.

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Help Change the World Saturday - Join the International Day of Climate Action

Got plans for Saturday? How about helping save the world and standing up for a just, sustainable future? and other organizations are hosting the International Day of Climate Action on Saturday, October 24. So far there are more than 4,000 actions scheduled, from bike rides to tree plantings to marches, to writing politicians to taking photos of people gathered to support significant action to help address global climate change.

Government officials will be meeting in Copenhagen in December for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, and negotiations look to be less than hopeful for a truly relevant and necessary climate plan.

Getting involved with this day of action is just one way to get involved in your community while striving for transformative systemic change.

To get you in the mood a bit, read this essay by activist and 350 founder Bill McKibben, called "A Timely Reminder to the Read Limits of Growth."

And, check out this slideshow from (It's about 18 minutes long, or you can quick click through it.)

Climate change is something that affects every person, being and ecosystem on the planet, so, if you're wanting a chance to do something really positive for everyone, get involved in positive actions to reduce climate change and promote a compassionate, just, sustainable world for all.

~ Marsha

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Humane Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.

New study reports that coal-fired power plants do “$62 billion in environmental damages” in (10/19/09)
“Also factored into the final costs was damage done to recreational activities and outdoor visibility. All told, the reduced or damaged crop and timer yields, the damage done to building materials, the strain on placed on outdoor recreation, the hampered visibility in certain environments, and the toll taken on human health brings the cost of coal to $62 billion a year in the US.”

Poachers killing100 elephants a day in Africa - Scientific American (blog) – (10/19/09)
“Over the last few years, CITES has allowed several one-off sales of ivory stockpiles, mostly from elephants that died of natural causes. But according to IFAW, this has fed consumer demand and created opportunities for the black market to mask its operations. The world financial crisis has made things even worse: Many African nations have had to cut back on their antipoaching operations, giving illegal wildlife traders even more incentive to profit from their operations.”

Report shows possible connection between music lyrics & children’s behaviorCBC News (10/19/09)
“The report's authors cited research findings that children who listen to explicit and violent music lyrics and video may become more aggressive, antisocial and promiscuous ‘Definitely there's a relationship that has been demonstrated,’ Gonzalez said, particularly for children and teens who are vulnerable because of their social environment.”

Cheap meat in Europe has devastating cost - Guardian (10/16/09)
“Cheap meat has become a way of life in much of Europe, but the full price is being paid across Latin America as vast soya plantations and their attendant chemicals lead to poisonings and violence. Much of the cheap meat and dairy produce sold in supermarkets across Europe is arriving as a result of serious human rights abuses and environmental damage in one of Latin America's most impoverished countries, according to a new film launched in conjunction with the Ecologist Film Unit.”

Offshore oil spill going on 7 weeksDaily Green (10/15/09)
“A spill at an offshore oil rig in the East Timor Sea has been leaking about 400 barrels -- that's 16,800 gallons -- every day for seven weeks, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts and the West Australian. That's enough oil to fill an Olympic sized pool, and a second pool one-quarter full.”

“Burning bunnies for biofuel”Scientific American (blog post) (10/14/09)
“According to Der Spiegel, stray rabbits in Stockholm are being shot, frozen and then shipped to a heating plant to be incinerated.”

Animals killed according to religious methods feel the pain, study saysNew Scientist (10/13/09)
“Brain signals have shown that calves do appear to feel pain when slaughtered according to Jewish and Muslim religious law, strengthening the case for adapting the practices to make them more humane.”

Coal plants working for cleaner air creating polluted water - New York Times (10/13/09)
“’It’s like they decided to spare us having to breathe in these poisons, but now we have to drink them instead,’ said Philip Coleman, who lives about 15 miles from the plant and has asked a state judge to toughen the facility’s pollution regulations. ‘We can’t escape.’”

David Suzuki wins Right Livelihood Award (the “alternative Nobel”)CBC (10/13/09)
“The prize citation describes Suzuki as ‘one of the most brilliant scientists and communicators about science of his generation,’ adding he has shown a ‘lifetime advocacy for the socially responsible use of science.’"
Thanks, Treehugger, for the heads up.

FAO says food production must increase by 70% - BBC (10/12/09)
"’The combined effect of population growth, strong income growth and urbanisation... is expected to result in almost the doubling of demand for food, feed and fibre,’ FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf told delegates at a forum entitled How to Feed the World 2050. The FAO said that even if governments increased agricultural investments, there could still be 370 million people suffering from famine in 2050.”

Some schools giving Columbus “more balanced perspective”AP (10/11/09)
"’The whole terminology has changed,’ said James Kracht, executive associate dean for academic affairs in the Texas A&M College of Education and Human Development. ‘You don't hear people using the world 'discovery' anymore like they used to. 'Columbus discovers America.' Because how could he discover America if there were already people living here?’"

Book explores assumptions about gender at early ageWashington Post (10/11/09)
“Our assumptions ‘crystallize into children's self-perceptions and self-fulfilling prophecies.’ Girls' slightly lesser interest in puzzles and building toys is reinforced instead of challenged, and it turns into a gap in spatial skills and map reading. Parents and teachers see a boy lagging in reading and verbal skills and shrug it off with, ‘But of course, he's a boy.’"
Thanks, Public Education Network, for the heads up.

Who knew clotheslines were so controversial?New York Times (10/10/09)
“The new laws have provoked a debate. Proponents argue they should not be prohibited by their neighbors or local community agreements from saving on energy bills or acting in an environmentally minded way. Opponents say the laws lifting bans erode local property rights and undermine the autonomy of private communities.”

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"Fun Theory" Great in Concept, But...

There are a couple of videos that have been making the "interweb" rounds lately -- from Volkswagon's Fun Theory marketing campaign to brand itself as fun and innovative while exploring "whether something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people's behaviour for the better."

I have absolutely no quibble with the validity of the concept of making something fun to make it more palatable and enjoyable, and thus encouraging us to do it more (or differently). All I have to do is think back to fun learning games at school, fun food shapes at dinnertime, and fun ways to clean my room as a kid to know that fun facilitates the desired action. I would also venture to say that it's pretty common knowledge that we work better (and probably harder) when a work project is fun; we exercise more if it's fun; we do certain activities because we find them fun; we gravitate toward certain people because we enjoy their company; we're more willing to do work we don't especially enjoy, if we're in good company and able to find the positives.

It's easier to make MOGO choices when they're easy, convenient...and fun.

I enjoyed watching the videos from FunTheory, especially the piano stairs. But, I had a couple of questions, such as:
  • Were people taking these more positive actions because of the novelty, and thus the changed behavior would decrease over time, once the shininess wore off?
  • How much did the technology to create these fun gadgets cost? What is the ratio of cost of the "fun" item to effect of the positive impact?
  • What kinds of impact did the production, transportation, installation, maintenance, and, eventually disposal of this technology have on people, animals and the earth?
  • Are these examples the best strategies to encourage positive behaviors? Are there others that would accomplish the same goal, but with a lower negative impact?
  • What relationship do these kinds of "fun" strategies have to privilege and wealth?
  • What does this say about us as people when we spend money on, for example, piano stairs, when there are people starving and in desperate need of basic food, water, shelter, education and health care?
Volkswagon isn't the only one to think about designs for fun-induced actions. Treehugger recently reported on a "trash ball," which is a soccer ball with a hollow inside for putting your trash. A fun concept, but again, is it the best choice for the problem? How much does the trash ball cost? What's the impact to people, animals and the earth? What happens to the trash ball when it has outlived its usefulness or is no longer functional? What's the cost/benefit ratio look like?

Using fun as a means to a positive end is a worthy concept; but, it's important to ensure that the implementation of that concept is worth its less than positive impacts.

~ Marsha

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Desire and Will

I was reading an excellent essay by Eknath Easwaran in the Blue Mountain Journal, titled “Will and Desire.” He begins:

“Desire is the key to life, because desire is power. The deeper the desire, the more power it contains. The Upanishads say:

You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your deep, driving desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.

Ah, but we are filled with such conflicting desires! And the strongest-willed among us, those who might become dedicated changemakers, leaders, visionaries, and doers, may also be those who are driven to fulfill desires that do not further a better world. What do industrial tycoons and Mahatma Gandhi have in common? Powerful wills to achieve their passionate desires.

As Easwaran’s excellent article explored, our desires are manifold and our will to manifest them a double-edged sword. He quotes the Bhagavad Gita: “The will is our only enemy; the will is our only friend.” As someone who has been accused of being strong-willed since I was a little child, I know this well. My strong will made me a challenging child to raise because I was endlessly attached to my desires and often inflexible. Yet, my strong will also became my great ally in achieving my goals and living according to my principles.

Making MOGO choices in our lives requires a strong will. Inevitably we will have conflicting desires. We may desire a certain food or product that is produced inhumanely or unsustainably. We may desire certain pleasures that have negative effects upon other species, other people, and the environment. We may also deeply desire a life of integrity and purpose and the unfolding of a peaceful, restored, and compassionate world. These desires may compete, and this is where we must harness our will.

Recognizing the range and breadth of our desires allows us to focus on those that are aligned with our values and pursue these with tenacious wills while acknowledging, but not indulging, those desires that don’t ultimately serve our greatest goals and the world we hope to create.

This is no easy task. But the very struggle can be rewarding, because when we wrestle with our desires and direct our will consciously, we create more freedom in our lives – freedom from the incessant pursuit of pleasure; freedom to create the lives we want most; freedom from advertising, peer and societal pressures; freedom to choose with wisdom and compassion.

What is your greatest desire? Your most fervent hope? Harness your will towards this end.

~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind

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Yes Men Set to "Fix the World"

At a conference, an executive advocates turning climate change victims into fuel. Another executive at another conference gives a presentation about the corporate benefits of human slavery. A representative from the Dow chemical company appears on a major news network and declares that Dow is finally accepting full responsibility for the Bhopal catastrophe. It's not true, because the "representative" isn't really from Dow, but Dow's stock temporarily crumbles, and more attention is given to the impact of the actions of multinational corporations on others. The executives aren't really executives, but political gadflies who want to wake up corporate employees and help them think outside the profit box. This is what the Yes Men, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, do. They impersonate top executives of corporations and infiltrate conferences, gain interviews, etc., in order to shock people into thinking critically about the "free market" system and the actions of corporations.

Their original documentary, The Yes Men, was released in 2003, and now they have a new film coming out this month called The Yes Men Fix the World. Screenings are scheduled around the U.S. and in the U.K.

They also offer a free downloadable teachers' guide to accompany the film. It includes a variety of discussion and critical thinking questions, as well as sample activities to spark students to do their own investigating and citizen activism.

Whether or not you condone their strategies, the Yes Men and their films provide excellent tools for exploring issues such as the power of corporations and what role corporations and a free market economy should play in a healthy country, as well as encouraging critical thinking and a broader understanding of these complex issues.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of the Yes Men.

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Desperate to Do Something Helpful After Flight 250

In my last blog post I wrote about my experience on United Flight 250 and my reflections upon what was the MOGO thing to do in the tense situation. I received a bunch of great comments on my Facebook page (where this blog is cross-posted), which spurred me to write this addendum.

Perhaps because I knew the MOGO thing was to do nothing during the flight, I think I unconsciously felt a need to do something helpful for someone once we landed. I stopped to use the restroom when we landed, and as I was about to leave I encountered an agitated woman with a 6-month-old baby in a bit of a quandary. She needed to change her baby’s diaper, but the bathroom didn’t have a proper changing table, only a shelf with no safety strap or bumper. With a squirmy child, as hers sometimes was, this is dangerous. So I offered to help. All I did was stand next to her with my body against the shelf to provide a bumper if her baby started rolling and chat as she changed her daughter’s dirty diaper. Then I held her baby so she could wash her hands afterwards. She and I both felt less stressed, albeit for different reasons.

In my book, Most Good, Least Harm, one of the keys to MOGO is to pursue joy through service. My very tiny act of service provided more evidence for the theory that doing good brings happiness. And it was just what I needed after Flight 250.

The moral of this story? Do something kind today.

~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind

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Humane Educator's Toolbox: IndyKids

Looking for a resource to help your students connect with and think critically about social justice issues and current events? Check out IndyKids. IndyKids is a free newspaper (it comes out 5 times a year, and you can download a PDF copy online) that strives to engage kids (grades 4-8 and English language learners) in becoming problem solvers and changemakers for our world. The newspaper has addressed issues from health care to healthy food to the war in Iraq to child slavery. It also offers features about youth activism, as well as little filler tidbits, such as puzzles, cartoons, news briefs and reviews. Submissions can be made by kids and adults both.

The website includes teacher guides, with activity and discussion ideas that accompany each issue.

~ Marsha

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Blog Action Day: Personal Choices & Governmental Action on Climate Change Aren't Enough - We Need Better Systems

When people think about addressing global climate change, they usually either think about making changes in their personal choices (changing lightbulbs, driving less, etc.), or about national and international government policies and laws. And, while both are essential components of influencing the impact of global warming, neither is enough. Yes, it’s important to establish federal and international policies and legislation, and yes, every choice we make will either help contribute to climate change, or help alleviate its effects. But we also need to remember that, until we’ve created healthy, sustainable, just systems to support our choices and to reflect and extend the purpose of the policies and laws, we won’t succeed.

We’ve learned as a culture that, just because a law is passed, it doesn’t mean that law will be followed. I read an article recently that mentioned how often corporations violate the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act and experience little, if any, consequence. How is that going to encourage them to adhere to the law? Some types of animal cruelty are illegal, but people continue to torture and kill animals. Many forms of discrimination have been legislated, but that discrimination still occurs. And we’ve seen just how difficult it is to get any meaningful national and/or international policy or legislation on global warming issues.

Likewise, we can make as many choices as we can that decrease our impact on climate change – and it’s important that we do so – but unless many other people are doing the same, our impact isn’t enough.

We need to ask ourselves, in addition to the choices we're making in our own lives, what can we do to influence the systems that perpetuate destructive actions and policies? How can we nurture and support positive systems?

Two issues that can have a major impact on how much we contribute to climate change are what we eat and how we transport ourselves. We can choose for ourselves the most good, least harm ways to eat and how we get around, but we also need to help create systems that make it easy, convenient and desirable for the majority of the population to do the same. So, how can we help create and nurture systems that lead people to focus on a plant-based, organic, whole-foods, local diet (or whatever combination of factors is the MOGO choice for their region and circumstances)? How can we help create and nurture systems that encourage people to find low-carbon ways to get where they need to go?

There are so many issues interconnected with global climate change, from poverty, transportation and food to architecture, human rights and deforestation. For each of these, we can work toward making the best MOGO choices we can, and encourage our governments at all levels to enact positive, sustainable policies and legislation. But, we also need to work to provide the systems that can help us all to live with responsibility, integrity, and peace, and thus reverse this downward spiral that we have set ourselves on.

~ Marsha

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What Was MOGO on Flight 250

Flying home from Portland, Oregon, on October 12, I sat diagonally across from a woman who became increasingly disruptive, belligerent, and aggressive. I’d missed the initial altercation between her and the man sitting in the chair in front of her, only tuning in when the flight attendant attempted to get her attention (she was masked and hooded with eyes closed and head down) to ask her to move her legs from pushing against the back of his seat. Apparently, she’d been kicking his seat incessantly.

Her reaction was intense and hostile, accusing the man of pushing his chair against her legs, bruising and assaulting her. She would not remove her legs from his chair. She was emotionally out of control and began yelling at the flight attendant, who calmly backed off. Then she began jabbing her neighbor in the middle seat quite hard with her elbow. She clearly knew this woman (who was also masked and hooded). At this point I was watching her attentively, and she was alternately crying, pushing the seat in front of her violently with her legs and hitting her companion.

Eventually a man came to talk to her, showing her his FBI badge and explaining that she needed to settle down or there would be trouble for her at our destination. She just became more enraged, threatening, hostile, and practically begged to be arrested, putting out her arms to be cuffed and saying, “Go ahead, arrest me – I want you to arrest me.” She said she had restless leg syndrome and was on medication for it and that’s why she moved her legs a lot (but this, of course, was no explanation for her violent kneeing of the seat in front of her), and she denied knowing the woman next to her, who was practically mute and kept putting her head in her hands and shaking her head. She also wanted the man seated in front of her, whom she was now accusing of assault, to be arrested. The federal marshal did speak to him separately (he’d been moved to the seat across the aisle). She also began taking pictures of all of us around her.

By the time we landed, she simply refused to follow basic regulations. She wouldn’t put her seat up for landing, and when the flight attendant did so, she pushed it right back. She wouldn’t store her bag under the seat in front of her, and kept taking it out and putting it on her lap.

And so when we landed, we were all told to remain seated, and a police officer came on board and escorted her off the plane. As she was walked off, she yelled at the man who’d been sitting in front of her, “Wife beater!”

The whole time I was observing this situation unfold, I kept thinking, “What’s the MOGO thing to do here? What would the Dalai Lama or Mahatma Gandhi do if they were sitting diagonally across from this woman as I was?” I thought about asking the woman if she needed help because she was clearly suffering, but I didn’t feel that I had the skills to confront her mental illness, and I worried that I could make the situation worse. Each time she was spoken to – by the flight attendants or the federal marshal – the situation briefly escalated.

So I think the MOGO thing for me was to do nothing, which was what I did, and leave the interventions in the capable hands of the crew. I was impressed with how well they handled the situation. They remained calm, professional, and clear and found a good balance between efforts to de-escalate while still imparting the urgency of the situation in demanding that she calm down. Bravo to the crew on United flight 250.

On my second flight home I sat next to a psychologist, and I described what had happened and asked his opinion. What would he have done? It was interesting to hear his thoughts and to know that he would not have intervened either (nor did he think the Dalai Lama would). He made the point that she had some motivation that was unseen to the rest of us. Perhaps, for example, she wanted to be arrested to avoid something at her destination.

At any rate, I learned a few things. First, I learned that others behaving in a MOGO way (as the crew was doing) is enough. One doesn’t necessarily have anything MOGO to add. Second, I learned that I really lacked any skills or knowledge to intervene anyway, but that I was ready and willing to – which was good to know. In the face of the Kitty Genovese horror, when no one called the police as she was killed in a courtyard, despite her desperate cries -- which dozens heard -- I’m glad to know that my first inclination is not to do nothing, even though in this case it was the MOGO choice in the end. I also learned that we owe a lot of respect, admiration, and appreciation to flight crews. Yes, I’ve experienced the occasional surly flight attendant, but I was so impressed with this crew and their response, and I have a new gratitude for them, given the challenges they face.

~ Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm and Above All, Be Kind

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Project Censored: A Great Tool for Exploring Media Bias

When we read or view the news, we're not only experiencing it through whatever biases (conscious or unconscious) the journalists and news media possess, we're also limited to whatever they deem news-worthy. Not every story makes it, and some of those stories address issues important for citizens to know about.

Since 1976 Project Censored has been training students in investigative and media research, as well as reporting on stories that mainstream media hasn't. Each year, Project Censored releases the Top 25 Censored Stories of the year, news stories that "are underreported, ignored, misrepresented, or censored by the U.S. corporate media." The organization receives up to 1,000 nominations each year from journalists, educators, and concerned citizens around the world and then reviews the stories and chooses 25, which they have a panel of judges rank in order of importance.

This year's stories include:

  • "U.S. Congress Sells Out to Wall Street"
  • "Europe Blocks U.S. Toxic Products"
  • "Nuclear Waste Pools in North Carolina"
  • "Katrina's Hidden Race War"
  • "Ecuador's Constitutional Rights of Nature"
Project Censored serves as a great resource for inspiring yourself, your students and/or your children to think critically about news media, considering issues such as:
  • What are the biases of reporters and news outlets?
  • Why do some stories get so much press while others don't?
  • How do reporters/media outlets decide what to report on?
  • What influence do government and corporations have on which stories are reported on and how?
  • How often do news stories accurately reflect the issue?
  • Are news stories superficial and black/white, either/or focused, or do they offer a more in-depth perspective?
  • How can I learn what news stories are "underreported, ignored, misrepresented or censored"?
  • What news stories are underreported in my own community, and what can I do about it?
  • What other (accurate, credible) sources of news are available to me?
  • How can I positively affect the news media and influence them to become more reliable?

~ Marsha

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Humane Issues in the News...

Each week we post links to news about humane education & humane living, and items connected to humane issues, from human rights to environmental preservation, to animal protection, to media, consumerism and culture.

California governor signs some animal welfare bills, vetoes othersLA Times (10/13/09)
"’Californians have no taste for animal cruelty, and they oppose it at every turn. The Legislature had its collective finger on that pulse this session, with Republicans and Democrats speaking out strongly against the ills of puppy mills, farm animal mutilations, dogfighting and animal abuse,’ Fearing said. ‘The governor's actions were characteristically schizophrenic, revealing him to be out of touch and lacking a genuine intuition for how strongly Californians feel about the plight of animals.’”

An essay “against meat” - New York Times (10/11/09)
“Every factory-farmed animal is, as a practice, treated in ways that would be illegal if it were a dog or a cat. Turkeys have been so genetically modified they are incapable of natural reproduction. To acknowledge that these things matter is not sentimental. It is a confrontation with the facts about animals and ourselves. We know these things matter.”

Ethical consumerism – political power, or political cop-out? - New York Times (10/9/09)
“The question, at bottom, is this: have we, with our ethical cars and condoms and carrots, found a way to make markets humane? Or have we rather found a way to make politics bearable to us by turning it into shopping?”

“Pigs learn to understand mirrors” (10/9/09)
“Professor Broom said the study shows pigs have a high degree of what he terms assessment awareness, or the ability to use memories and observations to quickly learn to assess a situation and act on it.”

UK study asserts that “peak oil” could happen as early as 2020Telegraph (10/8/09)
"’In our view, forecasts which delay a peak in conventional oil production until after 2030 are at best optimistic and at worst implausible. And given the world's overwhelming dependence on oil and the time required to develop alternatives, 2030 isn't far away,’ said the report's lead author Steve Sorrell. ‘The concern is that rising oil prices will encourage the rapid development of carbon-intensive alternatives which will make it difficult or impossible to prevent dangerous climate change.’"
Thanks, Common Dreams, for the heads up.

Survey finds corporations increasing efforts to measure, reduce carbon footprint - Social Funds (10/7/09)
“And while budget concerns were cited by many companies as a motivation for delaying the purchase of carbon offsets, 60% of respondents reported that they measure their organizational carbon footprint, 44% have a defined carbon management strategy, and 32% report having such a plan in development. However, only 54% of North American companies measure their carbon footprint, compared to 92% of Australasian, and 62% of European, respondents.”

Study says to save forests, give control to communities - New Scientist (10/7/09)
“One reason may be that locals protect forests best if they own them, because they have a long-term interest in ensuring the forests' survival. While governments, whatever their intentions, usually license destructive logging, or preside over a free-for-all in which everyone grabs what they can because nobody believes the forest will last.”

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Too Sexy for My Onesie: Resources About the Sexualization of Children in Media & Culture

Risque’ Halloween costumes. Pole dancing games for children. Child models in sexually suggestive poses. Seven-year-old girls begging to be put on diets because they’re “too fat.” Thong underwear for pre-teens. Padded bras for 6-year-olds. High heels for infants. Tees for tots with slogans like “I’m gonna be hot!” or "Hooters Girl (in training)" on them. The landscape today’s young children are traversing is significantly more sexualized than in years past.

Parents, educators and child advocates are becoming more aware of the pressures and messages media and culture are surrounding young children with -– children too young to understand and make good choices for themselves –- and are speaking out about such practices.

Authors like Diane Levin and Jean Kilbourne, who co-wrote So Sexy So Soon, talk about the sexualization of children in the media and our culture. The authors raise important issues, such as the fact that sexual images are being used to target younger and younger children, and that the sexualization of children -- especially of young women -- also affects young men. They say:
"Boys learn to see girls as objects and judge and value them by how they look and how 'sexy' they are. And boys are taught to conform to a very narrow definition of masculinity — being tough and invulnerable and aggressive. This can make it very difficult for boys to become men capable of having positive, caring, and connected relationships."

Media has a strong influence on the choices that we all make, and since younger children have less facility with critical thinking and making healthy, positive choices, the effects can be even more significant and long-lasting.

Resources like these below can provide useful insights for discussing such issues in the humane education classroom, or in making choices for our own children.

So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids by Diane Levin and Jean Kilbourne (2008)

The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It by M. Gigi Durham. (2008)

The Sexualization of Childhood by Sharna Olfman (2008)

Report of the APA Taskforce on the Sexualization of Girls (2007).

For useful resources offering occasional news and commentary about media's influence on the sexualization of children, check out blogs such as:

Sociological Images (choose the children/youth tag to see post related to that topic).

Corporate Babysitter (the blog of Parents for Ethical Marketing).

~ Marsha

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Teaching Elsie to Hug: A Lesson in Educating Our Children

I’ve been training our new dog, Elsie. At first I thought she was a genius because she learned “down” after two tries. But the truth is she’s probably of average dog intelligence. She hasn’t, for example, learned not to pee and poop in the house (although her preferred spot is in the bathroom, which should count for something).

Her new “trick” is giving me a hug (see photo). She learned this in two tries, too. This is how it works: I crouch down and ask her to sit, and then I put my hands in front of her and say, “Elsie, give me a hug,” whereupon she immediately (I mean really, really fast!) sits up and wraps her paws around my wrists. Seriously cute.

But if I’m honest, I didn’t really teach Elsie this. Instead, I rewarded her for doing what she wanted to do (give me a hug) and molded her behavior through treats so that “hug” meant sitting up and wrapping her paws around my wrists rather than jumping up on me and pawing any which way she wanted while she licked my face. It’s much harder to teach her things she doesn’t want to learn, like not peeing and pooping in the house or coming to me when it means leaving behind uneaten pears under the pear tree (no wonder she poops five times a day!).

What does this have to do with topics I normally write about, like MOGO living and humane education? A lot.

Thirty-one years ago I interviewed at colleges, and I remember in particular my interview at the University of Pennsylvania. The interviewer asked me if I had any questions about Penn. I know you’re supposed to have questions, but I didn’t. So I said I didn’t have any questions, but I wanted to tell him just how excited I was about Penn because on the trip down I was going through the course catalog (the size of a city phone book!), and I couldn’t believe just how many courses were offered. I wasn’t just sucking up; I meant it. There was so much to learn at this big university. Now, in retrospect, I know that only about 20% of those courses would have been of interest to me. The rest would have left me bored, frustrated, daydreaming or anxiety-ridden by work that didn’t come at all naturally.

Like Elsie, it’s easy, rewarding, and pleasurable to learn what engages us and already comes fairly naturally. So why do we so often force students to learn so much that is painstakingly miserable for them through teaching styles that don’t come close to matching their learning styles? Why don’t we do as they do in other countries and allow young people to specialize much sooner, veering toward the arts and letters or science and math? I think we don’t do this because we believe that it’s important for every eighteen-year-old to be able to do algebra and geometry; understand chemistry, physics and biology; write a good, well-thought out and cogently-argued five paragraph essay, and know basic historical information. And frankly, though some who read this blog may be surprised by this, I think this is a good thing. Just as I think it would have been a good thing for me to take an occasional finance or engineering course at Penn. There are things worth learning whether they are easy for or seemingly interesting to us.

But we must be careful that we do not bore or intimidate our children or crush their love of learning. I think it’s a travesty when we do this, and we do it all the time. We’ve skewed the ratio of forced, unpleasant dumping of information to engaging elicitation of knowledge and new skills such that too many kids hate school, which too often translates in their own minds into hating learning. This is so sad it makes me want to cry. Every teenager should look at a big university’s course catalog enthralled by the opportunities to learn.

Elsie needs to learn to stay and to come. She doesn’t much like doing either at times (unless coming to me means a treat better than fresh pears), but she must learn it. But stay and come get interspersed between the hugs she loves so that the gestalt of her “education” is positive, and she jumps up and runs to me at the opportunity for learning new “tricks.”

Let’s do this with our kids.

~ Zoe

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Teachers Make a Difference, What About You?

Taylor Mali is a poet, performer, and former teacher, and for all you teachers out there looking for some affirmation and inspiration, check this out:

(If you can't view the above video, see it here.)

I would love to hear your thoughts on this video.

~ Zoe

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Humane Education in Action: Planting Seeds of Change Internationally

The synergy of realizing the kind of planet he was leaving his children and a dissatisfaction with his school curriculum's lack of connection to real world issues led science teacher and IHE M.Ed. graduate Jason Crook to hunger for a new way of teaching and living. Humane education has helped Jason to manifest his concern for people and the world, both through his teaching and in helping create a more humane future for his children. Jason is now a teacher in Guangzhou, China, working to bring kids an excellent education and spread the power of humane education.

Quick Facts:

Current hometown: Guangzhou, China
IHE fan since: 2004
Current job: Science Teacher and IBDP Coordinator at the American International School of Guangzhou
Book/movie that changed your life: Silent Spring was an influential book for me and I must admit to not watching many movies.
Guilty pleasure: Jelly Beans
Inspired by: The millions who live the lives they value.
One of your strengths: I tend to be a rather persistent person with an ability to build consensus on difficult issues.
Other tidbits: Currently learning the game of Gaelic football.

IHE: What led you to the path of humane education?

JC: I suppose the primary factor was becoming a father and realizing that these young people, my son and daughter, will inherit the planet from my generation. Do I sound like Al Gore, yet? I also became more aware of how my actions could influence these wonderful young people. Other things dovetailed at the same time, though, including dissatisfaction with what I was teaching in my courses, and the shine coming off the rose of science. I had become a little frustrated with curriculum as usual in the schools where I worked and in the courses I taught. It all seemed so disconnected and irrelevant to more pressing issues. In Saudi Arabia, before beginning my Humane Education studies, I woke at 2 a.m., agitated about this state of affairs, got up and re-wrote our entire introductory science course so that it reflected a connection to more real world issues. Some of the changes were actually adopted but it also felt good to get something down on paper and consider what a more connected and meaningful science course would look like. About the same time, science seemed to be coming under attack as the source of so many of our global problems, and I wanted to “re-claim” science and its process of inquiry while challenging my students to consider how scientific knowledge can be used for good or ill depending on how conscious people are of their decisions and actions.

IHE: You’re currently working in China, and before that you were teaching in Saudi Arabia. How did you come to be teaching in those countries? Are there particular challenges or rewards you’ve discovered? How has living in different countries affected your MOGO choices? Your teaching practices?

JC: My international teaching experience began with the U.S. Peace Corps in Kenya, East Africa. I really enjoyed the opportunity to work in education and to do so in an international setting, so since Kenya, I have worked in Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and now China. Saudi Arabia was an intriguing prospect for many reasons, but most significantly was it had a school with a good reputation, and it was a secretive culture we looked forward to exploring. Unfortunately, we were also there during some violent periods. Likewise, China, with its history and culture, was an appealing opportunity for us, and living in southern China, old Canton, has presented some interesting chances to learn about Chinese culture.

Language is always a challenge, of course, and so is learning the idiosyncrasies of the different societies and cultures we live in. It all takes time and one needs to keep their sense of humor as they stumble through learning a new language or perpetrating heinous social faux pas. Everywhere we have been, local people have been forgiving and very supportive. We have truly witnessed that humanity has more in common than we have differences. All in all, it is very rewarding to develop relationships with people from different cultures and begin to understand their unique approaches to important local and global issues and to gain insight into my own opinions, actions and beliefs. Every day presents new opportunities to learn.

With each new location, we need to evaluate our MOGO choices and determine what kinds of choices are even available to us. Some places provide a degree of choice, others less so. For those areas with less choice, there is a great educational opportunity, but in all cases and locations I attempt to understand how things are currently done and/or how they have been done and what the impacts are. Sometimes that which seems most good in one location is not most good in another. This type of local knowledge and awareness is a result of our living overseas.

It is clear from the schools I have worked in that all people value education and especially a meaningful educational experience. Students who attend these international schools are often from high-powered and well-to-do families, and these young people will go on to powerful and influential positions in their home countries. It is an excellent opportunity to instill a more global consciousness in students from all over the globe. Having taught students from diverse backgrounds and in different cultures, I am able to draw upon a wider variety of examples and find I can make easier connections to knowledge gained as students learn. It is also an excellent opportunity to create more awareness of other cultures and to confront stereotypes head on.

IHE: Tell us about how you’re currently manifesting humane education. What are your challenges? Successes?

JC: In my current role at AISG I am very involved in curriculum development and in our community service program. These provide numerous opportunities for discussion about Humane Education and the inclusion of important global issues in our daily classes. In an effort to raise awareness of various issues, I have started to plan monthly themes during the school year. For example, September’s theme was Peace, and I showed the documentary film Peace One Day during lunch periods one week that month. In addition, I liaise with the community service coordinators to assist our student groups in addressing some of these issues and motivating community action. I have also proposed that the school establish a Sustainability Task Force, which would require us, as a school, to carefully consider our current practices and the impact they have.

On the heels of this proposal, I have gone further afield and proposed a Sustainability Cup competition with schools on mainland China and with those in the greater Asia Pacific region. I am waiting to hear whether any organization would be willing to take this on and see it come to fruition. These ideas were inspired by work at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Gill, Massachusetts. I taught there, and they seem to be making real strides in this area. They have established a Green Cup competition with regional schools and have done a self-study of their own green issues.

I have also given workshops on Humane Education at regional education conferences in Bangkok and in Beijing. These workshops were designed to introduce teachers to the idea of Humane Education and to show some examples from my own students. The workshops have been very well attended and well-received, and I am seeking opportunities to expand the work. At this point, I have proposed to the East Asia Regional Council of Schools (EARCOS) that there be Humane Education workshops scheduled at their annual Administrative and Teacher’s conferences. The EARCOS Board will be meeting this month and I will know more after they meet.

Finally, in an effort to communicate and coordinate what is happening in terms of Humane Education at international schools, I have begun to create a website, entitled Sustainable International Schools Network, that will encourage schools to share their experiences and resources in addressing humane issues. As far as I know there is no coordination of activities happening in international school settings, and this might be a chance for schools to share their insights and to publicize their actions. This has been a slow and drawn out project, as time seems to run out at the end of each day. Anyone interested in assisting me with this project, drop me a line! (You can email Jason at:

The biggest challenge I find is that things move slowly in education. I am slowly learning to be more patient with my projects and continue to look for opportunities for slow changes to happen.

IHE: At one time, for one of your M.Ed. assignments, you said that you saw conveying your message as a “risky endeavor”. What made you feel that way, and is that still the case?

JC: This statement reflected insecurity about fully changing what seemed to be so many things in my life to present more “message” in my life. I initially felt like this was an all or nothing proposition and was concerned about how it might impact my young family and my teaching career. The MOGO idea was not apparent to me at that time. I felt a bit like a double agent in trying to keep one foot in the world of the status quo, where people and animals were exploited, where resources were used unsustainably, but also place my other foot firmly in a different world and try to make more enlightened changes when I could or when it was convenient. I knew I could live more consciously but would my family, friends and colleagues be on board? Did it matter?

I make no apologies now. I make it clear where I stand and make the decisions that I think meet the MOGO standard. Most people understand, some shake their heads, but everyone knows where I stand and why I act as I do. There is too much at stake in my eyes and I am, obviously, in the perfect profession to model and educate about a more conscious lifestyle. At the school in Riyadh, I became known as the “guy who made people feel guilty about everything”! I took that as a compliment, actually, because, if that was true, people were taking time to think about their actions and the impact of their choices.

IHE: What are your thoughts about the power of humane education to positively transform the world?

JC: I have seen the power of Humane Education in my students and in those teachers and administrators who have attended my workshops. People are inspired, ready to act, and recognize that their actions have consequences. There is no question that Humane Education is one of the most powerful tools available for transforming the world we live in. I recently read a comment from a Dean of Education at the University of Ottawa to the effect that education has moved from being transmissional to becoming more transactional and that education might even be transformational. I would argue that with Humane education there is no “might be”, it is transformational and that is what we require. Humane education is education in the purest sense of the word.

IHE: Any future plans, dreams or projects?

JC: I would like to create an IHE extension in an international location to make Humane Education and MOGO workshops more accessible to the large number of international teaching faculty.

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