Monday, 14 December 2009

The Three Challenges of Climate Change

It seems to me that there are three main areas that we can change to reduce our consumption rates and halt the destruction of our planet.

These are population, lifestyle and technology. The trident of climate action, if you like.

Population is fairly obvious - the more people there are, the more resources we will need to keep them fed & watered. Driving around in cars, heating homes and buying tonnes of junk a year just makes things a whole lot worse.

Every year more people aspire to the lifestyles we enjoy in the developed world, so a growing world population is only going to lead to trouble. Unfortunately, it will take a long while to halt the growth, even if everyone on the planet agreed today to have only 2 children. The best ways to achieve lower birth rates appear to be education and the empowerment of women, but neither or these is likely to happen particularly quickly over depressingly large areas of the globe.

Lifestyle is a more complex issue, but is largely about re-aligning priorities in the developed nations and helping the developing nations achieve sustainable growth. Lifestyle is more than just cycling to work or becoming vegetarian, it’s about your decisions in every aspect of your life: how you vote, where you invest spare cash, what work you do etc.

It is often said that individuals have no power over government and corporations, that the small changes we can make are dwarfed by their excesses. This is true to some degree – the footprint of the Copenhagen COP15 summit was about that of a small UK city – but it misses the point. If even a few more people vote Green Party, for instance, the main parties will site up and listen. A small drop in revenue will make even the most avaricious multinationals take note. This will be news worthy, so the mainstream population will be exposed to new ideas. What is considered ‘normal’ alters, becomes a little greener and more people act responsibly. This creates more momentum in the swing to green, so normality gets greener a little faster.

Another claim is that to live a one-planet lifestyle you have to drop out. I have heard people say that they cannot live sustainable as they do not want to live in a yurt and do want their kids to go to school. This is complete nonsense. Sustainable lifestyle is about gaining things, not loosing them. It’s about thinking how you live, choosing quality of life over buying lots of stuff – focusing on living life, not climbing the property ladder. There is no reason why you could not be fabulous wealthy, send your kids to public school and still live sustainably, if that really is what’s right for you family. After all, Ghandi’s footprint was not huge & he was one of the most influential people the world has ever known.

Technology may also help us out of our worsening mess. Developing super-efficient transport, productive renewable energy systems and almost 100% recycling rates will make a huge difference. Carbon capture and storage could reverse climate change to some degree (probably) and geo-engineering may reduce its impact.

However, problems with engineering our way out of trouble include time, cost and feasibility. It will take a long time to get the fabulous technology up and running, with a lot of it only delaying the problems rather than solving them. It will cost a lot of money and require quite a shift in economic power, so there will be resistance to doing it effectively. It is also not certain that it is possible to achieve in practice, especially if people expect to carry on increasing consumption rates. Technology has often back-fired in the past, so relying on it could quite feasibly make things worse rather than better.

All three areas are vital to securing the future of our planet, but the central prong of the trident is lifestyle. It can be the most powerful and is the only one we can all influence directly as individuals. Companies are run by people, governments voted in by people and all wealth created by people spending or investing their money. We are those people and it is our choices that can change the world.

Monday, 23 November 2009

How to be Zeta Part 5: Kindness

"Don't give yourself a hard time about getting things wrong: to err is human. Be kind to yourself (and others) so that you have room to change for the better."

It's about 11pm & I was thinking about going to bed, when my mind got working on the concept of kindness. So here I am downstairs tapping away at my blog. To get in the spirit I have poured myself a wee whisky, even though I have already cleaned my teeth!

Such rash, anarchic exuberance!

Well, anyway. Being kind starts at home, with yourself. Most people, especially women, are not very kind to themselves. We expect so much of ourselves, one thorny part of which is the expectation to achieve our expectations.

We live in an age of Hello Magazine. OK, there are lots of other magazines,papers, TV programs, films etc etc etc, but Hello sums it up quite well. At least I think it does, since I don't often read/watch much of that kind of stuff so am not an authority. It might sound like I'm being all cultural & high brow by saying this, but it's actually much simpler than that - I just can't be arsed with any of it. Anyway, the point is that Hello (et al) peddle the idea of perfect lives led by perfect people. Beautiful, cool, rich, successful, funny, interesting, sexy people that are so much better than we are & who live such better lives. It is almost impossible not to aspire to have some of that: to be those people.

Unfortunately, they don't exist. To start with, the pictures are engineered to be highly flattering or are actually doctored, so give a sheen of beauty to the most haggard of munters. Then the stories are selective in what they portray, exaggerating the heroic & interesting and missing the boring bits or dull depression. Finally, think about why the story is in the magazine in the first place: with billions of people on the planet, there will always be something worth reporting happening to someone that the buying public will pay to read about. It's just the odds game that it's not you.

So, this rather leads to a society where people want to emulate the (secretly fictitious) people they read about. They want to be perfect. Perfect in looks, in body, in mind, in aspiration.

In fact, we get to the point where we expect it of ourselves. We feel we have failed if we are not gorgeous to look at, toned, tanned & young. We have failed if we are not funny, if people do not flock to our company & hang on our every word. We have failed if we do not wear clothes that emphasis our stunning good looks in a way that is cunningly fashionable yet slightly querky & unpredictable. We have failed if we are not rich & successful in whatever we do. We have failed if we are not extraordinary.

This is, of course, a shame as the vast majority of us are ordinary. By definition, really.

So what I am saying is give it up. Let yourself off. Be kind to yourself. If it doesn't matter if you're a bit podgy, a bit thick, a bit dull or a bit poor, then oddly you probably won't be. At least, not to the people to whom it matters, the people that you will enjoy being with & who will be true friends to you. By giving yourself space to fail, you can try whole heartedly to succeed but not get damaged if it doesn't work.

Take a moment to visualise this - no boundaries to what you can try to do, as there are no repercussions for failure (obviously within bounds of moral & legal decency, for those of you going "aha! But what if I tried to......"). If you are truly kind to yourself you can be happy with falling flat on your face, as you will be full of self-forgiveness. Having fun & having a go become so much more important than succeeding, which gives you space to become content. Possibly to succeed too, but that won't be important any more once you're content.

As an added benefit, others laughing at you becomes a minor irritation or actually quite fun in itself.

An example of kindness is my hair. I'm getting a little bit older now & my hair is not quite as rumbustious as it once was. I struggled for a while both with the disappearing hair and the fact that this bothered me, as it shouldn't: it's just vain silliness. Then I gave in, admitted that it did & that it was alright to be a bit vain & neurotic, so bought some hair-helping shampoo. It's got caffeine in it, so as a bonus I am sort of smoking through my scalp. Anyway, now I have it I have relaxed & don't mind any more about either the Shiny Scalp Syndrome or my incipient vanity. Hell, with jutting jaw, rippling muscles & sparkling eyes, who wouldn't be a bit vain? (I assume here that neither of you reading this have actually seen me).

None of us are perfect. Very, very, very few of us are actually beautiful. But most of us are attractive and would be more so if we allowed ourselves to be. Allow yourself your flaws & you will become an attractive person through being content. Why? Because you will have become what even the most rich & famous out there want to be: content, centred, enlightened. Even that Holy Grail of modern psychological achievement - Confident!

People find this attractive as it is infectious: once you have allowed yourself to become content, you will be well placed to help others find the ability to be kind to themselves and become content too.

But please just remember, being kind to yourself does not mean giving up & becoming a slob. It usually means giving yourself room to try harder, as there is truth in the saying 'the more you put in, the more you get out'.

Well, maybe just one more wee whisky to read through with!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

How to be Zeta Part I: Contentment

"The objective of life is contentment. Happiness is surficial and short-lived, but contentment permeates every aspect of your life consistently, once achieved. Religions tend to talk about enlightenment, but it is basically the same thing.”

We live in a society where size matters. Everything is target driven, from government ministers obsessed by management theory to school children dominated by SATS. If something cannot be measured it has no value, as how can you compare yourself to the ‘model of perfection’ if you can’t quantify either? We are constantly told, sometimes very subtly, that to be whole and happy people we have to have enough fun, happiness, money, beauty, sex & cool stuff. If we have enough of all these, which incidentally are generally on sale or available to those who tow the party line, then we too may become models of perfection and the envy of all our friends.

{The ‘model of perfection’ seems to be based on those lifestyles of the rich & famous that are detailed in Hello magazine. Unfortunately, these bear less relevance to real life than most Mills & Boon stories, even for those of us who are actually rich & famous. So we are on a hiding to nothing if we try to measure up to these models that are commonly peddled in our society. Even more unfortunately, most of us do just that.}

Now, most of the truly important things in life are not measurable in themselves or take years to be noticed. Examples are kindness, understanding, wisdom and gratitude. Also the most important of all, contentment.

Contentment is very like enlightenment, only you don’t need to like yoga or joss sticks to indulge. I use the word indulge on purpose, as it coveys a sense of doing something wonderful but naughty. Trying to achieve contentment within our society is just that: a wonderful thing to achieve but naughty because content people make poor consumers, are less swayed by spin and less blinded by duty.

Contentment is often confused with happiness, but they are quite different. The former is a pervasive state of being, a constant boon that permeated every aspect of your life. The latter is mercurial, easily conjured by good company or good booze, for instance, but just as easily lost. Happiness can animate even the most icy heart for a while, but once gone leaves nothing behind but memories. Or possibly even depression.

Once you are content, you will be able to accept your life as it should be and ignore the model of perfection. The fashions and fads of the world will hold no sway, leaving you free to pick and choose what you want to use and what discard. You will not be stressed by you imperfections, but accept them with a sense of humour and appreciation. Being kind to yourself will allow you to grow and, most importantly, help those around you grow through your kindness to them. This is why contentment and enlightenment are so similar, as they both lead to great wisdom and the ability to help those around you.

It is not easy to be truly content. To do so you need to understand what is important to your life, then act upon it. This will be different for everyone, so there is no Haynes Manual to contentment – rather, there is a system to follow that should allow you to understand what’s right for you. The basics of this are outlined in my blog post ‘A short sharp (ish) guide to zeta’, but will be explored in greater detail soon. ish.

Friday, 30 October 2009


Completely forget my loggin details for a while there, hence the silence! Silly me.

Anyway, I am reading Richard Dawkins' book the God Delusion at the moment, which quotes a paradox about omnipotence. It goes like this:

If God is omnicognisent, then He (or She) knows what will happen in the future, including the actions He will take. Since He knows what He will do, He cannot change that action. This therefore means He is not omnipotent, as His ability to do something different is gone.

Does this hold true? Is it possible that by being omnipotent He can be anyplace at anytime, possibly even every place at every time? Time and place would surely have little meaning, so future, past & present are as one and there is no knowing 'what He will do' as much as knowing 'what He did', even if for us it hasn't happened yet.

Does this mean that there is no paradox?

Monday, 21 September 2009

Proving a god exists

This is probably very old hat for anyone who knows anything about philosophy, but I don't so it seemed like quite an exciting line of questioning to me. What am I talking about, you may be asking yourself, and why are you bothering to read such blather? Well, this question may answer you:

“Does the Big Bang theory mean there has to be a god?”*

My reasoning is thusly (to sound a bit Old Testament about it all) - if the universe was created from a singularity, or in other words everything in creation grew from the same vanishingly small something at the start of the Big Bang, then is it possible that all movements & interaction of every particle in the universe is predictable? If we could know the conditions when everything sprang from nothing, when all the energy and matter in the universe was set in motion, then surely we could predict what those motions would be for the rest of eternity.

It would be a bit like holding a load of marbles in your hand & chucking them into the air - if you know the position and movement of the marbles as they leave your hand, you could predict exactly where they will fly & land.

Now, if we can predict what will happen to all the particles & energy in the universe, we could work out what has happened since the Big Bang and what will happen until the universe freezes to a halt (if indeed it will). If this is the case, then every action and thought has been pre-determined and there is no free will. Such a situation would be pretty much exactly the same as there being a god ruling and directing creation, so as long as we overlook the heaven/hell bit (which is OK as we are taking about gods here, not God) we could say that the Big Bang proves the existence of a god.

So, there I was thinking these thoughts and it was looking quite promising, as long as the universe did indeed start from a singularity and not some rather nebulous collapse of a previous universe, when along came a big but!

Please notice the single 'T' in that last word. Thank you, you can now carry on.

BUT, rather excitingly (I am soooo dull) a useful loophole appeared at the moment critique for the there's-a-god-but-also-free-will fraternity. This loophole was:

(please imagine a fanfare at this point)


This means that it is physically impossible for the location, composition, energy, movement etc of any subatomic particle to be known at the same time - you can know what something is but not where it is, or vice versa. Now, the term 'know' here is a little more fundamental than just seeing or hearing: it means that all interactions at the subatomic scale are inherently unpredictable. As they are unpredictable, it means that it is impossible to predict the movement of mater & energy, so there is not necessarily predetermination.

No predetermination means free will and no proof that there is a god, or at least no proof that the universe acts as if there were a god, which to my mind is so ridiculously similar that it would be churlish to argue about it.

So, even if the universe did start from a real singularity there is the potential for free will and the existence of a god is safely returned to being based purely on faith.


*I'm not referring to the comedy series, by the way, but the theory that explains how an expanding universe was created in the first place. Or recreated. Possibly.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Zeta, gods & spirituality

We all believe in something: perhaps a god, perhaps some nebulous form of spiritual force or possibly just blind guidance by physical laws. It doesn't really matter as far as Zeta is concerned, as it is this life that we are concerned with rather than the next. Think of it as the path to heaven on earth, if you like.

It is quite possible that all theologies are correct at the same time, even the mutually exclusive ones, so it is silly to stress about which is superior. It is also rather arrogant to claim that one's own beliefs are correct and everyone else's wrong, as others believe just as strongly as you and with just as much justification.

It is interesting to note that the founders or major prophets of most religions have said similar things about the ways to reach their gods: be tolerant, be kind, be spiritual and chill out about what you have and your position in society.

This is also the way to heaven on earth, which simply means reaching a state of contentment in your life. Focusing on the spiritual in your life will make this much easier to achieve and is possibly the only route to full contentment. In this context spiritual does not necessarily mean any of the gods/astral plain/reincarnation type stuff, but does concern the inner you: your emotions, the shrouded foundations of your conscious thought, your subconscious and instinct.

For instance, being unpleasant to someone may lead to a sense of superiority, victory and elation, but brings with it stress, anger, alienation and emotional retreat. This could enhance happiness in the short term, but would almost certainly reduce contentment for the longer term. The same degree of pleasantness to others would bring a longer lasting joy, elation, connection, mutual social elevation (as opposed to lone superiority, with all its drawbacks) and emotional growth. It would also boost contentment.

Remember that happiness is an intense but fleeting feeling that comes and goes rapidly, leaving little of use behind it once gone. Contentment, on the other hand, is a stable state of being that influences all other emotions and tends to engender that rather chimeric feeling of happiness.

Most religions of the world also try to dissuade people from being proud, and that message is as relevant today as it has ever been. It is perhaps the most important message of them all, as the whole chilling out & being spiritual thing is almost impossible if you get it wrong. No spiritual chilling means no enlightenment, no pervasive contentment.

The classically religious interpretation of pride seems to be similar with boasting or big-headedness. This, I think, is slightly off the mark and is probably a misunderstanding of the teachings of men (mainly) who were, after all, some of the wisest the world has even known, even if you don't believe in their gods. Now, the Zeta interpretation of pride is 'don't take yourself too seriously', but this is basically the same as the classical teachings, only updated for a modern context.

Pride is a boon in some circumstances - pride in your children's rather dubious artwork, for instance. In fact, it can be a great source of joy and motivation to do good. But if you take yourself too seriously, the pride can very easily turn venomous. If you don't take yourself too seriously, then you can view the world through untainted eyes and feel good about just about everything. It gives you room to be understanding other people and forgive their foibles or insults, just as you should forgive yourself for your own.

Well, enough for now - it's time to stroll into the market for the week's shopping.

p.s. very proud of myself, as I wrote all that without a snigle spelling mistake!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

A short sharp (ish) guide to Zeta

Finally I've plucked up courage to take the plunge - prevarication can only last so long before it becomes obvious avoidance. SO, what is Zeta? The philosophy of life can be summed up as follows (in no particular order or coherence, by the way):

1) The objective of life is contentment. Happiness is surficial and short-lived, but contentment permeates every aspect of your life consistently, once achieved. Religions tend to talk about enlightenment, but it is basically the same thing.

2) Contentment can only be achieved by taking the right course of action at each turn in life. Right means the best for you and others - taking the selfish option to the detriment of others will never lead to contentment.

3) The right course of action is obvious if you follow your instincts - follow your heart rather than your intellect. This could also be thought of as being guided by spirits/gods/guardian angels/God, depending on what you believe. Never act out of fear, duty, greed etc.

4) Life naturally tends to lead you in the right direction - taking the right course of action is not always the easiest option in the short term, but will always lead to the best overall outcome. Every time you make a wrong decision, life will throw up chances for you to get back on track, but taking that course generally becomes harder the longer you put it off.

5) Don't give yourself a hard time about getting things wrong: to err is human. Be kind to yourself (and others) so that you have room to change for the better.

6) Do not take yourself too seriously and don't judge others. You can never fully know yourself, but you should never stop trying. Always keep half an eye on what you are doing and try to make sure it fits with (2) above; but remember (5).

7) Don't chase money and never take a path purely to make more of the stuff. If you live life right then sufficient money will just crop up - sufficient to make you content, but not necessarily wealthy.

8) Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll are, for some people, just as sure a means of reaching contentment (enlightenment etc) as sitting on top of a pole for 10 years. Each to their own.

9) Always wear cheap socks inside out - they're much more comfortable that way.

Well, those are the simple tenants of Zeta, I guess, although there is a lot more to talk about with each one. That will have to wait till later, though, as I had best get back to some good honest relaxing now. I'll probably chat about Zeta, gods & spirituality next time. Probably.