James Murray-White – Green Prophet https://www.greenprophet.com Good news that impacts the Middle East and your world Sun, 23 Apr 2017 17:36:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://www.greenprophet.com/wp-content/uploads/cropped-green-prophet-logo-2-300x123-32x32.png James Murray-White – Green Prophet https://www.greenprophet.com 32 32 Eco Love Forest Film Not a Convincing Eco-Porn Messenger (Review) https://www.greenprophet.com/2013/05/fuck-for-forest-film-review/ https://www.greenprophet.com/2013/05/fuck-for-forest-film-review/#comments Sun, 19 May 2013 19:41:44 +0000 http://www.greenprophet.com/?p=94293 fuck-for-forest-logo

James reviews a film about a very odd group of “environmentalists” in Berlin who use sex as a tool to save the planet.

I had expected this brand new ‘hot doc’, Fuck for Forests, doing the European circuit to be more sensationalist, funny, perhaps even poking fun during its portrayal of a radical group based in Berlin who produce pornographic material to raise money for environmental causes. Ultimately, though it didn’t sensationalise, it did disappoint, and I’m frustrated at its lack of coherency and structure.

I had heard of ‘Fuck For Forest’ a while back, and enjoyed their website, which has plenty of free images, perhaps defeating the point – although images of human beauty draped in foliage and enjoying their naked bodies in natural spaces is a great thing.

I certainly support that message and hope that their work, with its stated noble aims, might go some way to promote healthy nudity and sexuality in a shaming society.

The film, made by Michal Marczak, picks up on what clearly is a great story.

However, it becomes a semi-psychological profile of the individuals involved in ‘FFF’, yet I felt afterwards it doesn’t clearly portray their vision, or it slowly unpeels that they have little coherent vision, and the camera actually starts to pan between the characters, not allowing a central figure to emerge and dominate the narrative.

One of the main characters is Danny, newly arrived and in possession of a wonderful voice and eclectic dress sense. He has deep personal issues of estrangement, and an other-worldly sense of commitment to his cause, as seen in the closing shot where he asks a group of disaffected Palestinians to come and protest naked with him outside the German Parliament.

However, he isn’t given the central role of the film, and I feel the narrative lacks a structure to hang around, perhaps as the group is composed of strange characters who ebb and flow with their wavering energy levels.

It is clear that ‘FFF’’s philosophy is well intentioned but not so well thought through.

Standing round, smiling either inanely or looking either hostile or vacant, the film does include sex scenes, including a public copulation, where the male, Tommy Hol Ellingsen, smears his sperm mingled with his partners menstrual blood over his face, and declares it “organic”.

It is a rare documentary that leaves the viewer wondering is it the style or the subject that is discordant and under-developed? A few hours after viewing I realise it is actually both. It is a tough proposition to make a documentary about sexuality, without being either gratuitous or academically distant.

The most interesting parts of the film are when the group approach people to come join them and be photographed naked, or filmed having sex. They share the statistic at about 1 in every 10 they approach agree and shed their inhibitions. That is a fascinating study, which the maker could have explored a bit more, including an early scene where a chap with a lot of emotional baggage gets photographed naked in an inner-City park to try to heal.

Naturally enough, they manage to raise a huge sum of money to take to donate to Indigenous groups in the Amazon region, but here is where the well intentioned plan beaches.

When they arrive there, they are welcomed, taken into the forest and the heart of the human community, even given a traditional herb to create hallucinations and open up parts of the mind to a more enlightened state.

But in an excruciating scene, where the group attempt to articulate their vision to the locals, and offer up their overflowing wallet, the community want specifics from them like jobs or self-directed job creation, not idle hand-outs from oddly dressed Westerners.

The group leaves bruised, mis-understood, their vision in tatters, for want of poor research and naïve ambitions. The group splinters, and they all go off on separate journeys.

I’m curious where they all are now, and if they have abandoned the lofty ideals that created ‘FFF’.

A follow up film, going deeper into the individuals involved, finding and following a central point of tension that shifts the narrative down a different course, and more of a challenge to the ‘us against bottled-up society’ as well as how the group might attempt further outreach to the peoples living within the forests, would be welcome.

Fuck for Forest trailer:

::Fuck for Forest website (warning – the site is loaded with explicit images (eco-porn) that should not be viewed by people under 18)

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Solar Mamas Shows Sustainable Engineering for Bedouin Women (Film Review) https://www.greenprophet.com/2013/05/solar-mamas-film-review/ https://www.greenprophet.com/2013/05/solar-mamas-film-review/#comments Sat, 18 May 2013 19:24:06 +0000 http://www.greenprophet.com/?p=94282 Refea, solar mamas, barefoot college, Bedouin woman in Jordan

They can’t read or write but a couple of brave Bedouin women from Jordan travelled far and wide to help their villages become solar powered. The biggest struggle yet may be with their husbands: We’ve covered this hopeful story of Solar Mamas, Bedouin women from Jordan who went to Barefoot College to learn how to solar power their villages. We’ve interviewed the women from solar mamas, and have reviewed the film Solar Mamas, a documentary movie about their journey.

We’ve even covered their plight as these women face pressures in their village from this “wild idea.”

Not long ago Green Prophet was invited to a Skoll Foundation Conference in the UK. Our resident blogger and documentary filmmaker James met the director of Solar Mamas, the film, and was compelled to review the film for us once again.

Here’s his take on the movie Solar Mamas, and why you should watch it:

As readers of Green Prophet know, I’ve spent a fair amount of time amongst the Bedouin population of the Negev Desert in Israel, exploring various cultural and sociological issues that affect their society, and watching various solar initiatives either developed from within, or as Bedouin-Israeli co-operation projects.

I filmed this story in the Negev Bedouin village of  Um Batin where the gift of solar technology has enabled a father to have medical equipment that will greatly enhance the life of a very sick child:

I was excited to hear about a new documentary film about a solar initiative with the Jordanian Bedouin population, and met the director, Egyptian-American Mona Eldaief in Oxford recently at the Skoll Foundation Conference.

The Skoll Foundation, a leading social entrepreneurs network, work in partnership with the American Sundance Institute, supporting their ‘Stories for Change’ programme, which films inspiring social change happening around the world. The organization also funds great social programs like those done by Friends of the Earth Middle East in Israel, Jordan and Palestine.

Mona’s film, ‘Solar Mamas’ follows such a project and its many trials and tribulations within the Jordanian Bedouin village of Rawat Bandan, and focuses upon Rafea, the solar mama of the title, and her family.

Barefoot college, solar women, solar mamas, jordan bedouin, refea

It is fair to say that much of the film focuses on tension between Rafea and her husband, which represent the wider issues prevalent within the Bedouin community, both in Jordan and in the Negev; the clash between traditional male power within the home and community, and a growing sense of women’s empowerment, through education and employment. Having the husband and wife as antagonist and protagonist at the core of the documentary make for an absorbing film.

Somewhat in the middle of this is the Government, and the film’s ‘fixer’ character is Raouf Dabbas from the Environment Ministry, who seems to be in a constant state of exasperation, negotiating between husbands and wives and broking power deals within family units, as well as arranging the contact with the Indian school, and bringing its founder, Bunker Roy, to Jordan. In early scenes, we see some of the pioneering work Roy has done around the world within rural communities, which gives context to the project being initiated in Jordan.

From my studies in the Negev Desert, given that the Bedouin are such a traditional culture, these changes are happening so fast the sparks flare up time and time again, as the older male custodians find their authority eroded and both women and the younger generations embrace the opportunities that the new values that a modern lifestyle will bring, like cars instead of camels, solar panels instead of firewood and gas.

The first shot of the film shows Rafea emerge from the family tent, then clearing scrub wood in the desert for fire. It is a really powerful scene, with her saying in voiceover: “my life is the same routine.”

We see her devotion to her children, her rootedness in her place and her culture, but also that she has a yearning for something else – change, travel, education, greater wealth etc, and a Government Initiative brings the head of the Barefoot College to her village to talk about the education and training offered at the School in India.

This is where Rafea and others from the village do eventually go and study, and learn how to put together the components for solar energy and create a simple set-up, but for Rafea the journey, and subsequent journeys backwards and forwards between her village and the college in India bring up so many inter-personal struggles for her, she becomes a martyr for struggle and change within her community.

A key scene shows Rafea in her tent discussing her feelings with other women, as the call of the Muezzin sounds outside: “I want to explore the world and I want to learn,” Rafea says, to be met with the response: “we understand but the situation is hopeless.”

Rafea’s husband is the key sticking point in all of this. He feels her place is in the home, with the children and the routine of the household. He is shown numerous times lying down, it is implied he is lazy and his role as provider is questioned, and when Raouf Dabbas visits and calls he smiles and says he does understand the situation and wants there to be change – but at his stubborn pace!

Like many relationships across many cultures, how one person is able to fulfil their own urge for change, travel and advancement, within the bounds of their own personal circumstances, is a key tension, and as most of us will experience this – with all the pain of break-ups and disagreements, it is fascinating to watch and experience it (within the manipulated structure shown to us through the edit process of this film) here.

I felt while watching that the story of bringing solar technology to a small and remote desert village, is almost peripheral – the actual catalyst of change could actually be anything. The shots of the women in India in the classroom learning the technology and passing their exams are great to watch and funny too, providing relief and inspiration in contrast to the trauma that Rafea is going through. Then finally when the shipment of equipment actually arrives, is assembled and there is the final “let there be light, Hamidullah (praise be to God)” moment, brings the arc of the story to completion. There is a final twist with Rafae’s husband, which I won’t reveal here.

‘Solar Mamas” is an important film that takes the viewer right to the heart of a remote Bedouin village and the central issues of tradition and change faced by one family.

I resonated deeply with the story as I’ve experienced it first hand in the Negev, and as a Western anthropologist coming in to study and experience the life of Bedouin culture, know that the weight of expectation placed upon the Bedouin to embrace alien opportunities and technologies is huge (read the story about Arava Power and the Bedouin here). Managing expectation and change is key.  However, you don’t need to have been to these communities to get a lot from the film. It deals with very real human emotions, and takes the viewer on a journey of discovery and inspiration, with very real benefits to a society without many amenities that we take for granted. It charts a very real solar harnessing and transformation project in the deep desert.



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Book Review: I’m With the Bears https://www.greenprophet.com/2011/11/book-review-%e2%80%9cim-with-the-bears%e2%80%9d-and-takes-sides/ https://www.greenprophet.com/2011/11/book-review-%e2%80%9cim-with-the-bears%e2%80%9d-and-takes-sides/#respond Thu, 03 Nov 2011 07:12:19 +0000 http://www.greenprophet.com/?p=56148 Book Review, 350.org, environmental destruction, environmental art, environmental activismPauline Masurel reviews a collection of literary and science fiction stories by world renowned authors that imagine the affects of climate change.

Bill McKibben was arrested in August this year while protesting against TransCanada’s proposed plans to build a pipeline that would carry oil from the Alberta tar sands to Texas. McKibben has written:  “This is really really important. Jim Hansen, the world’s most important climatologist, has said that if we burn these tar sands in a big way it will be ‘essentially game over for the climate.’ That’s worth reading again. The oil companies and the Koch Bros are willing to take a few years of big profits in return for cratering the planet’s climate system.”

You might think that the facts would speak loudly enough for themselves, but McKibben has also written an introduction to this collection of short stories which aims to show that fiction can speak as persuasively as fact in making the point about the wounds we are inflicting upon our own planet. The book’s title is taken from a quote attributed to the environmentalist John Muir, ”When it comes to a war between the races, I’m with the bears.”


There are ten stories from an impressive array of internationally acclaimed authors who write, for the most part, either literary or science fiction. When I picked it up to read I was truly hoping it wouldn’t be too ‘preachy’ and offputting in its approach to telling tales from a ‘damaged planet’. Of course, since these stories are essentially intended to be  environmental parables for our age, it would be surprising if there weren’t a certain amount of implicit preaching involved. But luckily, I also found a lot of variety in tone and subject matter and the authors’ approach to the topic

The collection begins with T.C. Boyle’s story of eco-activists fighting against deforestation. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Sacred Space looks at the environmental changes facing the Sierra Nevada region. As expected, these stories are clearly directly connected to the effects of human environmental destruction.

Oblique twists

But my favourite stories in the book take a more oblique angle on the theme. In Lydia Millet’s Zoogoing there is no immediate, overt environmental angle. Initially this seems to be the story of someone who likes getting too close for most people’s comfort to animals in zoos. But the story goes on to consider a very human angle on what it means to be endangered and waiting for extinction.

Similarly, Nathaniel Rich’s Hermie uses humour, featuring a talking hermit crab. Like so many of these stories it has a tinge of sadness despite the humorous style. But there are plenty of smiles to be found too, with creations like Toby Litt’s ‘Tescocommunists’ and ‘Walmarxists’ in a story which kookily conflates the blitz of the second world war with the blitz club of the 1980s London dance scene,  aping the postmodern way that most nostalgic reruns of historic trends manage to make a mash up of time. Even the title of the story, Newromancer, is a pun on the classic William Gibson cyberpunk novel Neuromancer.

Future planet earth

There are two stories set in 2040. Helen Simpson’s contribution is a diary account and possibly the most terrifying vision of societal breakdown to go with climate destruction. David Mitchell’s, The Siphoners is also a scarey vision of the future, featuring a story within a story, reminiscent of the complexity of his novel Cloud Atlas.  But it also involves a sobering reflection upon the possibilities and implications of population control.

One of the impressive features of this collection is the variety of different approaches to the topic, including reflections upon the numerous different ways in which we have trashed our planet, or at least exploited it, and may one day be called to account.  For example The Tamarisk Hunter considers the importance of water supply as a vital resource and extrapolates upon the lengths that people will go to to obtain supplies.

Even the stories that have speculative or predictive elements to them are firmly rooted within the past and the present.  Margaret Atwood’s short-short story ends the book with a creation myth that turns into a destruction myth.  She writes, In the fourth age we created deserts. Our deserts were of several kinds, but they had one thing in common: nothing grew there. Some were made of cement, some were made of various poisons, some of baked earth. We made these deserts from the desire for more money and from despair at the lack of it.

This collection may not persuade everyone to side with the bears, and that’s fair enough, but it does present some of the possible reasons to do so in interesting and entertaining short-fictional ways. Royalties from the sale of this book go to 350.org, an international grassroots movement to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

More Book Reviews on Green Prophet:
Plastiki: Across the Pacific on Plastic
The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change
A No Nonsense Guide to Climate Change

This review is a collaboration with and will also appear in The Short Review.

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Book Review of Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness https://www.greenprophet.com/2011/10/edgelands-book-review/ https://www.greenprophet.com/2011/10/edgelands-book-review/#comments Tue, 25 Oct 2011 05:25:43 +0000 http://www.greenprophet.com/?p=55722 edgelands book reviewEdgelands are the spaces outside of towns and cities that play host to a rough element. Largely considered no-man’s-land, they too deserve attention, Marion Shoard argues. Two poets respond to the call.

The term edgelands was coined in 2003 by Marion Shoard.  She wrote, “The expanses of no-man’s-land which have sprung up on the margins of our towns and cities play host to a mix of uses characteristic of our age. Rough and ready in the naked functionalism of their edifices and in the lawlessness and vigour of their natural vegetation, these places are unappreciated by the arbiters of landscape taste, but they too have their story and their needs. The time has come to give these ‘edgelands’ their due and recognise them as landscapes in their own right.”

Answering Shoard

In their book Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts have done what Shoard requested, presenting a non-fictional celebration of these marginal spaces.  Perhaps, like the process of identifying our own personal limits and boundaries, beginning to understand what happens on the outskirts of our habitable spaces will help us to love and understand these edgelands better, rather than simply regard their rag tag spaces as necessary evils.

This book handles an extraordinary breadth of subject matter with individual chapters that cover different types of edgeland spaces or characteristics, including subjects such as wasteland, dens, landfill, sewage, wire, ruins, piers, mines and bridges.  The writing is not encyclopaedic, more a meditative contemplation, often drifting back and forth within and in-and-out of the declared topic to wander off at a tangent.

The art of the edge

The authors pose the question (and then go on to answer it by example) of how exactly poets can cope with barbed wire fencing and IKEA car parks without becoming prosaic?  How do the metaphors we use about journeying fit in with post- and pre-industrialised spaces?  If Robert Frost regretted missing the path “less travelled by” then the authors characterise their own spiritual path as “a track worn down by dog-walkers and schoolkids, on the outskirts of a north-west English conurbation.

It would start on scrappy grass, then weave its way through a copse of feral trees.  Every now and then a makeshift den or tree house can be seen, or a water tower looming where the trees peter out.  Charred bonfire patches crop up on one side or the other, and the sky is overcast above.”

The book takes many other examples from art,  literature and music to illustrate its thesis: from Marilene Oliver’s sculptures featuring text messages, through the poetry of Philip Gross about communication mast platforms and Keith Arnatt’s photograpy of rubbish to the music of The Fall about container drivers.

There are also painters whose work represents the edgeland landscapes of England, including David Rayson and  George Shaw.  Perhaps we need these artists to moderate some of these landscapes for us, to be able to see their peculiar beauty.  The struggle to perceive is one that the authors document when they describe the act of searching, as adults, for present-day dens that match those of their own childhoods, “…you are aware of how differently you see this world, how you can no longer get your eye in, or realise the imaginative potential in what you see.”

There are plenty of fanciful imaginings of potential in this book.  Self-storage facilities as shrines or temples of contemplation to escape from consumerism rather than spaces in which to store its excesses. Rats are considered as possible communications repeaters, murderers guilty of disposing of their victims to landfill, commuters capable of plucking herbs in the ruins of supermarkets. It is a co-written book, presented in a singular first person plural voice but that ‘first person combined’ voice is not an impersonal one, rather it is something highly individualistic.

At one point the authors list, like verses, the wild flowers that flourish on the wasteland of different cities, following each stanza with the constant refrain of exactly the same array of shopping chains that exist in all locations.

Out of sight, out of mind

“Rubbish is part of the texture of edgelands….The edgelands become a place of forgetting, never more so than when they are used for dumping or for landfill.”  Graffiti and litter are recurring themes in this book, but often they can be swallowed up and hidden by colonising wild plants.

The authors are insistent that edgeland spaces are transient places, always subject to change.  “Edgelands ruins contain a collage of time, built up in layers of mould and pigeon shit, in the way a groundsel rises through a crack in a concrete floor open to the elements.  They turn space inside out….Encountering the decay and abandonment of these places is to be made more aware than ever that we are only passing through; that there is something much bigger than us.”  They also argue that edgelands are some of the most biodiverse environments in England.

In some ways the spaces that fight out the battle between humanity and nature are those in which flora and fauna are taking back for themselves. The former landfill site, Salt Ayre, Lancaster became ‘an unplanned ecosystem’. Gulls established a large colony, attracted by edible rubbish.  Human scavengers settled there too, for what profits could be made, and Salt Ayre once even provided the final resting place for a forty-foot fin whale that had been stranded in Morecambe Bay.

Swaddywell Pit, Peterborough, once a dump is now a nature reserve. “There is wild carrot and yellow wort. Grasshopper warblers reel in the sedge and undergrowth; common darter, four-spotted chaser, emperor and black-tailed skimmer dragonflies cruise the air….Insects and birds and wildflowers are not interested in aesthetics.  All that matters is a biological opportunity.”  Of course, unregulated dumping is no friend to the environment and examples such as some Lebanese landfill sites show what a threat it can present.

The edge of the world

This book is about very English landscapes and spaces.  The mention of “true wilderness”  in the title reminds us that many so-called ‘rural’ spaces in the United Kingdom are closely managed. Woodland is often intensively planted for timber; the National Parks and designated long-distance footpaths are controlled and maintained for leisure purposes; watercourses are strictly managed to maintain levels, supplies and prevent flooding.

Of course, the authors are writing about the edgelands of a country which is not at war with itself or its  neighbours. In times of conflict, some unoccupied, boundary spaces can become far more contested and politically charged, such as the Iraqi Marshlands.  However, the concepts discussed in this book and the device of closely observing and recording could be translated and applied to any country at any stage of development.

For example, the book quotes Jimmie Durham describing the Arkansas of his childhood in the 1940s-50s, “…towns still had edges, no-man’s lands, that were not yet the surrounding farms…where the city’s refuse was casually dumped, so that the edge of town was not a ‘natural’ place. There lived racoons, opossums, rats, snakes, bobcats, skunks, hobos who were in fact outlaws(not homeless street people), families of African Americans and displaced Indians. All of us, shunned by the city, used the city’s surplus.”

It would be fascinating to read similar narratives that chronicle the edgelands of the Middle East. How much of their sights, sounds and smells would be similar and how much would differ from those of England’s edgelands.

For example, the idea of ‘allotment’ gardens for growing vegetables is a very British idea and the plots are often situated in archetypal edgeland spaces.  But a very similar 21st century Urban Farming movement has emerged from Detroit and spread throughout the United States and internationally.  Today there are urban farming movements in both Israel and Egypt and it is the “waste ground, rooftops, industrial ruins, lost spaces” that become fruitful growing places in cities and on their edges.

Whether urbanisation and industrialisation is expanding, has reached a steady-state, or is in flux and decline, there will always be outer edges and frontiers where settlements meet untenanted and unworked areas of land.  It is to be hoped that Shoard’s challenge to describe these environments will be taken up in the Middle East and around the world.

Reviewer Pauline Masurel is a gardener and writer who lives in the United Kingdom near Bristol.  She is a regular reviewer of fiction for The Short Review website and has reviewed books for Amateur Gardening magazine.  Her own short stories have been published in anthologies, broadcast on BBC radio and featured online.  She was a runner up in the 2010 Chapter One International Short Story competition and is a member of the storytelling group Heads & Tales. More about her own writing can be found on her website www.unfurling.net.

More Book Reviews on Green Prophet:

Book Review of Plastiki: Across the Pacific Ocean on Plastic

Interview with Locavore Expert Leda Meredith

Book Review: The Ethical Challenge of Climate Changes by Stephen Gardiner

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Book Review: ‘The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change’ by Stephen Gardiner https://www.greenprophet.com/2011/10/ethical-tragedy-climate-change/ https://www.greenprophet.com/2011/10/ethical-tragedy-climate-change/#comments Wed, 12 Oct 2011 09:10:27 +0000 http://www.greenprophet.com/?p=55072 ethical tragedy climate change coverStephen Gardiner argues that climate change is a combination of the ‘prisoners dilemma’ and ‘tragedy of the commons.’

Stephen M. Gardiner regards climate change more or less as an ethical failure on the part of the human race, something that implicates our institutions’ moral and political theories alongside ourselves as supposedly moral beings.

He employs the well known philosophical perspectives the ‘prisoners dilemma’ and the ‘tragedy of the commons’ to support his argument, demonstrating the idea that while it is individually rational to not to cooperate with attempts to curtail climate change, such a stance simultaneously means that we all suffer as a result.

Passing the Buck

He also argues that these two perspectives are in themselves insufficient to describe climate change since the immorality of global warming is ‘inter-generational,’ or in other words, we are ‘passing the buck’ to future generations. This means that the solutions to the previously mentioned philosophical problems are not actually available to us in this particular instance.

Gardiner also refers to ‘game theory’ – the idea that climate change is a problem that focuses on the individual self-interest of nations. Yet he suggests that the drive towards green energy cancels this out since with a green economy there is no tragedy of the commons and no intergenerational prejudice.

The Layman

I’m not a particular convert to the philosophical approach to climate change politics myself, having read a number of psychological texts on the issue. I find therefore that Gardiner’s book is rather a complex mix of theoretical assumptions, models and hypotheses which, while interesting to the academic, would certainly serve to deter the layman.

I find the most convincing argument put forward by Gardiner to be the intergenerational prejudice idea, something that I have encountered before and fully accept. He also correctly identifies the prospect for abrupt, sudden climate change, the nightmare prospect of runaway global warming, being exacerbated in itself by three very difficult blocking factors – economics, psychology and the intergenerational problem, all of which serve to create a sense of political inertia that rather stifles action for change.

Ethical motivation

This is all rather deep stuff and it can be difficult to wade through at times, but nevertheless Gardiner has expertly explored some very instinctual and vitally important considerations which cannot realistically be ignored. In his conclusion he argues that self-interested consumption and group-focused politics is unlikely to meet the challenge. Rather he proposes a channeling of ethical motivation through political groups and institutions and thereby into people’s individual character.

He nevertheless warns the reader that, though essential, this is a major task which requires the participation of all disciplines, particularly psychology, law, economics, political science and sociology.

The most positive function of the book, ultimately, is to argue urgently that the major business of the day is to confront and challenge the notion of ‘business-as-usual’. Although, I suspect somehow that most of us already realise this, it’s just that not many of us are quite sure how to go about it.

In essence, difficult but required reading.

‘ A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change’ by Stephen M. Gardiner, published by Oxford University Press, UK, 2011

Reviewed by Robin Whitlock, a freelance writer and researcher with a special interest in environmental issues – particularly climate change and energy – as well as mythology and history. Based in Bristol, UK. Robin blogs at: http://robinwhitlock.blogspot.com/

More Book Reviews on Green Prophet:
Book Review: Plastiki – Across the Pacific Ocean on Plastic
Book Review: A No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change
Book Review: Strategy for Sustainability by Adam Werbach

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Book Review: ‘My Journey With a Remarkable Tree’ in Cambodia https://www.greenprophet.com/2011/10/ken-finn-remarkable-tree/ https://www.greenprophet.com/2011/10/ken-finn-remarkable-tree/#comments Fri, 07 Oct 2011 08:31:29 +0000 http://www.greenprophet.com/?p=55062

Ken Finn is a passionate man. Sitting with him in his Brighton kitchen (which he built himself), our conversation ranges from his book, ‘My Journey With a Remarkable Tree’, to the current state of the economy: “We’ve got to decouple the juggernaut [of economic meltdown] that is hurtling towards us” is a memorable quote from him: to the recent summer of unrest throughout the UK, and both the malaise and regeneration of human, tribal, society, to an exploration of the benefits of travel and our human stories.

I’m here to talk to him about the book, and to be interviewed for his radio show (more about this later), but mainly because since we met at the UKAware Festival 2 years ago in London, I’ve wanted to catch up and have a longer conversation with this deeply engaged individual. I find him warm, deeply articulate and insightful on what he sees around him.

Ken’s concerns start on a very local level, from the foxes and huge seagulls that seem to dominate Brighton, to the slowly building strength of the Green Party locally – they control the Local Council and Caroline Lucas (the GP Leader) is the local MP, both firsts in a stagnant British political system; through to deforestation and the ruination of the world’s natural resources, and particularly on to the human story of Sena, a key character in the book, whose life was threatened in Phnom Penh and who has recently fled to Holland.

‘My Journey’ is both a travelogue of Ken’s movement with a mission through Cambodia and Vietnam, and a tragic, dispiriting account of the impact human greed has upon the forest and those who have depended on it for their livelihood and well-being for centuries.

When I read of the corrupt rangers being bought by local province governors and politicians not to protect the forests but instead to allow them to be clear-felled and destroyed in the name of personal and corporate profit, I felt as sick as the author. He travelled with various guides (Sena being the most involved with the campaign against felling) and met Shamen and forest dwellers who revere their spirit trees.

Some of the book reads like a lulling motorbike read, bumping along forest tracks, immersed in sights and thoughts of food and the oddness of global travel, and then he is into an encounter and right into the experience, for good or ill – such as with the guards at a checkpoint who after consuming a crate of beer, suddenly seem to understand English, or the times he gets trapped into tourist nightmares and tries to wriggle out.

“I was ready to ask the questions I’d wanted to ask since I’d arrived. “So do you use any Cambodian timber?”

“No, nothing from Cambodia.”

I changed track, “My clients only want to buy environmentally sound products. What safeguards to you have in place to make sure that what you use is sustainable?”

“Everything is FSC certified, so you know it’s sustainable. See it’s here in our brochure.”

I could feel myself going red, ‘the fucking liar’ I said in my head but kept cool. “But that can’t be. Laos and Vietnam have no FSC accredited forests and there are only three small ones in the whole of Malaysia.”

Now he wasn’t sure, I’d set off alarm bells and definitely pissed him off.

“No, everything is sustainable.” He was closing the books and closing our meeting. He was avoiding eye contact too. He didn’t mean it of course but he didn’t know if I was trouble. I hoped I could be.

“Of course, I will be in touch.” I said, somehow wanting it to seem like a threat. It was over and Hai walked me out to the car. I let out a shout inside my head.”

All of us who’ve travelled and found ways to engage with communities will identify with this book. I understand when Ken tells me about the struggles to continue the campaign, and re-adapting afterwards to our Western lifestyle, where casual consumer use and throwaway culture still predominates. Garden furniture (and many other wood products) is everywhere in the UK and the Middle East, and much of it remains made out of illegal timber. Always look for the FSC logo I preach (Forestry Stewardship Council).

‘My Journey’ is also a book to invigorate anyone who believes in protecting something natural: a kind of manual for the journey. We will not win all our battles, much will be lost, but the journey itself is often remarkable. Thanks Ken for articulating that passion.


Ken Finn also hosts a radio show, ‘Earth Boots’, on Brighton community Radio. Find podcasts from his shows, and one featuring our extended conversation, at: http://kenfinn.podomatic.com/entry/2011-10-03T16_45_21-07_00 his own website is at: http://www.ken-finn.com/

Read more Book Reviews on Green Prophet:

Book Review: Plastiki – Across the Pacific Ocean on Plastic

Book Review: A No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change

Book Review: Strategy for Sustainability by Adam Werbach

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‘Human Well-Being & the Natural Environment’ by Economist Partha Dasgupta https://www.greenprophet.com/2011/06/louise-gets-to-grips-with-human-well-being-the-natural-environment-by-dasgupta/ https://www.greenprophet.com/2011/06/louise-gets-to-grips-with-human-well-being-the-natural-environment-by-dasgupta/#respond Mon, 06 Jun 2011 20:25:20 +0000 http://www.greenprophet.com/?p=49252 DasguptaHow do you measure human well-being? How do you fully account for the impact of human interventions in poor regions like in Iraq? What costs are paid by the citizens of one country for the consumer demands of another?

Renown economist Partha Dasgupta’s recent book, ‘Human Well-being and the Natural Environment’ is not for the faint-hearted. It is academic in style and suitable for ‘economists, and students of economics, environmental studies, political science and political philosophy’, as is described on the jacket. It would also interest motivated readers.

Not being familiar with economic theory, equations or statistics, I did find this a challenging read and much was inaccessible to me. I am an intuitive person by nature and was attracted by the title. I am grateful that it had such appeal because it is unlikely that I would have picked it up if it had been called, ‘An in-depth theoretical study of how to evaluate policy change impact on social well-being and the natural environment in regions of poverty’, which may have been more accurate. Having said that, this book gave me much food for thought and stimulated a desire in me to speak with the author.

I gained much from this work including an insight into: the importance of which indicators can be used to measure well-being, particularly when studying ‘poor people in poor countries’ i.e. ‘private consumption per head, life expectancy at birth, literacy, and civil and political liberties.’; the limitations of using GNP (Gross National Product) as an indicator of social well-being; the need for a holistic understanding of the non-market transactions of a community prior to implementing change; and the difficulties of fully accounting for the impact of change in a meaningful way.

I gained a fuller understanding of the complexity of human existence across a range of countries and the interrelationship between democratic processes, civil conflict, war and the natural environment. For example, the author notes that, ‘the majority of the poorest countries today lie in the tropics. In contrast, most of the rich countries are in the temporate zones’, equally, ‘many infectious diseases are endemic in the tropics and subtropical zones…..Warm climate enables the pathogens to flourish over the entire year, making it that much more difficult to control diseases.’

Where malnutrition plays a part in a country’s well-being, the author notes, ‘Undernourishment displays hysteresis. (Stunting and cognitive disability, caused by early malnutrition and infection, can’t be erased in later life.) This makes the labour and credit markets discriminate even more against those who are poor.’

I was made to consider the various stakeholders of the natural environment; ‘Watershed forests purify water and protect downstream farmers and fishermen from floods, drought, and sediments. In tropical watersheds, forests house a significant quantity of carbon and are the major location of biodiversity, A forest canopy can house several thousand species of living forms in a single hectare…..Some of the products of watersheds are necessities for local inhabitants (forest dwellers, downstream farmers, fishermen), some are sources of revenue for commercial firms (timber companies), whilst others are luxuries for outsiders (eco-tourists).

For me, as a concerned citizen and as a keen traveller who has visited some of these so-called ‘un-developed countries’ Dasgupta describes, it has opened up a whole new world of looking at what we value, how we evaluate the impact of change and how we need to understand the cultural differences of ‘poor’ communities where there may be a need to intervene.

I was left with a question: How does one calculate the increase to the power base of a company that exploits small local communities for its own ends? It is, after all the power base that will enable the company to continue to exploit further local communities and influence government decision-making. I feel if this measurement isn’t included and accounted for against the social and natural environment costs, the long-term costs of globalisation on social well-being and natural resources will continue to be underestimated.

‘Human Well-being and the Natural Environment’ by Partha Dasgupta, 2010
Published by Oxford University Press, UK

Louise Gethin, reviewer, was brought up in Bristol, where she currently lives, though she has lived in France, Germany and New Zealand, and has spent time holidaying in Jerusalem, Spain, Ireland, Indonesia, Australia and Singapore. She’s a keen amateur photographer, cyclist and hockey player. Her biggest ambition is to publish her collection of short stories ‘Anecdotes of Love and Death’.

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Book Review: Loving Leo Hickman’s ‘The Good Life’ https://www.greenprophet.com/2010/12/the-good-life/ https://www.greenprophet.com/2010/12/the-good-life/#respond Mon, 20 Dec 2010 15:04:55 +0000 http://www.greenprophet.com/?p=36771 the-good-life

Want a reference book to living ethically? Want to know the truth about the costs of globalisation and profit-driven business practices on our health and society? Want to know what you can do to bring about change? This is the book for you.

Unlike the other books by Leo Hickman that I have reviewed (The Final Call and A Life Stripped Bare), the absence of the writer’s perspective and his interactions with others in A Good Life makes the book a bit harder to read.

It is much more about the theory of ethical living, about the origin of our food and what’s in it, power dynamics of globalisation, the costs to health, society and our environment of living unethically, and the different ways we can live more ethically.

I do like the way this book has been organised.  The eight chapters are broken into logical topics: Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Travel, You, Family, Community, Money and Work. At the end of each chapter there is a directory of related organisations, websites and magazines.

There are also ‘Explainer’ sections with a detailed explanation of terms like Toxic Chemicals, Fairtrade, Organic Food, Climate Change.

The ‘Dilemma’ boxes are useful throughout for exploring such questions as: do we need to wash our hair? Incineration or Landfill? Should I employ a cleaner?

The ‘Spotlight’ topics focus on our love affair with MDF, Trash Miles, Carbon Neutral, the rise of ‘unethical’ investments’, along with other highlighted issues.

It is well researched and packed full of useful information, including a section on further reading and resources, but it is text heavy and more a study of ethical living than an easily accessible practical guide.

I recommend A Good Life as a reference book, dipping into the different sections and accompanying directories when looking for something specific at a particular time.

A Good Life – The guide to ethical living, by Leo Hickman. Transworld Publishers (Eden Project Books).

This review was written by Louise Gethin of Bristol, UK.

More Book Reviews on Green Prophet:

Review of Leo Hickman’s ‘A Life Stripped Bare’

Living A Simpler, Deeper Life With ‘The Moneyless Man’

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Louise “Goes Slow” ‘Round England https://www.greenprophet.com/2010/11/louise-goes-slow/ https://www.greenprophet.com/2010/11/louise-goes-slow/#respond Wed, 10 Nov 2010 09:23:06 +0000 http://www.greenprophet.com/?p=33300 go-slow-england Interested in finding out about Slow Food, Slow Travel and some of the most beautiful places in England to slow down?  Want to know about people who have chosen the Slow Life?  This is the book for you – a journey and a resource.

It is a gentle meander through England, a ramble across the counties, a dip in the sea, a view from a cliff, a walk on the moor, an exploration of people who have created or conserved spaces of tranquility, and a discovery of unspoiled and restored locations.  It is also a tribute to those who strive hard to create a Slow Life and run a business.

For any reader who thinks Slow is easy, they will soon discover it’s not. As demonstrated through the life stories of the people named in “Go Slow England,” time, commitment, hard work and an ability to balance organic dreams with making a living are essential ingredients for success.

The underpinning concepts of Going Slow are an appreciation of community, family and environment as well as a meaningful understanding of the impact of our actions on others.  Many of the businesses profiled have been started by people like James & Siận at the Royal Oak in Somerset who state ‘We wanted to change direction and be closer to our parents.’  All of them have a desire to create positive change in their lives and in the lives of those around them.

There are role models who put their money where their mouths are and, like Susan Lilienthal at the Parsonage Farm in Somerset, offer discounted accommodation to those who arrive on public transport, bicycle or on foot; there are many who buy only locally-produced and preferably organic food for their kitchens, grow their own vegetables, make their own bread, keep animals, sell locally-produced and home-made goods.

Most of the settings are rural, but not all. Cottages, hotels, manor houses, farms, a semi-detached redbrick house in London and even a Tipi site nestle comfortably next to each other in this book.  Each location has a distinct flavour that blends the creativity and dreams of its host/hostess with the local landscape and community.

The book is broken into digestible sections, starting with Cornwall and Devon, moving through Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset, onto London, Surrey, Sussex and Kent, up to Suffolk, Norfolk and Northamptonshire, across to Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, into Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire, and finally landing in Yorkshire, Cumbria and Northumberland.

Interspersed with photographs, recipes, (I would love to try Glynis Bidwell’s Plum Fudge Pudding on page 58), poems and historic anecdotes are indexed maps, pricing information, contact details, useful websites and even a comparative guide on ‘How to be fast’ and ‘How to be slow.’

It would take a lifetime to visit all these places and do them justice.  In fact, having reviewed Go Slow England, I see no reason to ever go abroad for a holiday again, unless, of course, I am searching for a guaranteed blend of sunshine, blue skies and high temperatures which, being in England, none of these locations can offer.

Go Slow England by Alistair Sawday and Gail McKenzie. Publishers: Alistair Sawday Publishing Co. Ltd, ISBN -13 : 978-1906136-03-1

‘It is an enviable life, but they have worked harder than we can imagine to create it.’ (Go Slow England – Page 107)

About the reviewer, Louise Gethin:

Originally trained as a nurse in Bristol, she spent four years working with people with HIV in the mid nineties. Highlights of her life include: trekking to Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal; working in New Zealand; being an aunt to three nephews and two nieces; and living for three years on a houseboat only a stone’s throw away from Windsor Castle.

More Book Reviews on Green Prophet:

A Review on Bill McKibben’s “Deep Economy”

Julian gets to grips with green business in a double book review

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Pauline Wafts Through “Uses & Abuses of Plant-Derived Smoke” https://www.greenprophet.com/2010/10/pauline-wafts-through-uses-abuses-of-plant-derived-smoke/ https://www.greenprophet.com/2010/10/pauline-wafts-through-uses-abuses-of-plant-derived-smoke/#comments Wed, 27 Oct 2010 05:27:28 +0000 http://www.greenprophet.com/?p=32075 incense-plant-based-smokePauline discovers in her review of “Uses & Abuses of Plant-Derived Smoke” that there is more to plant-based smoke than meets the eye. Read on for details.

You’ve heard of tobacco and cannabis but what about jimsonweed or torchwood?  This book demonstrates that there’s a lot more to smoke created from plant material than just nicotine and narcotics.

We are familiar with plants as a food source or sometimes a construction material, but this volume is a fascinating excursion into a facet of plants that I’ve never seen discussed in this way before.  There are over two thousand reported uses of plant-derived smoke.  It has been used down the ages as insecticide, medicine, fragrance, food preservative, recreational drug, poison, disinfectant, magical agent and spiritual purgative.

Uses & Abuses

Incense is “any material that is burned or volatized to emit fragrant fumes” and it has been used for over five thousand years by cultures including the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians and Hebrews. The resins from the torchwood family of trees of southern Oman, including frankincense and myrrh, were once part of a trade that was probably more valuable than today’s oil markets.

It has been suggested that plant smoke was used by the Delphic oracles of ancient Greece to produce hallucinogenic vapors. Since then, many plant substances have been smoked by people around the world in the hope of inducing psychedelic visions, including a craze in the 1960s for smoking banana skins.  Research by the US Food and Drug Administration concluded that any such affects were due more to psychic suggestibility than the effects of chemical substances within the peel.

There are over a thousand reported medical uses for plant-derived smoke. It has been used for everything from aborting pregnancies, to strengthening newborn babies. Inhalation is a particularly effective way for the body to absorb the substances present in plant smoke. Plant smoke has sometimes been used as a painkiller and cannabis is perhaps the most controversial example of this. It has also been used for respiratory problems, for example Datura stramonium (or jimsonweed) has been widely used by asthma sufferers.  It was also used for “dulling the sense of people sacrificed during ceremonial executions” and for its hallucinogenic properties.

Toxic smoke

Unfortunately, jimsonweed also contains lethal toxic ingredients and there is ample evidence of the dangers of inhaling its smoke. A number of the other plants listed in this book can be used to make thoroughly nasty poisons, such as poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) and ricin which is derived from the castor-oil plant, Ricinus communis. So it’s no surprise to learn that the latter plant has also been used as an ingredient in smoke that was intended to cause blindness in one’s enemies.

The authors point out that their information is drawn from many different sources and whilst every effort has been made to ensure its accuracy, survey data is subject to different methods and rigor and even the correct identification of a plant species may be in question for some ethnobotanical field studies.  And just because a particular plant material has been used as part of the rituals of a particular culture somewhere in the world, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a good idea to try setting light to it in our own homes.

This book provides no endorsements for plant smoke and even where it gives indications of the ingredients in historic recipes, there’s no suggestion that these are suitable for the home-grower and smoker.  This is not, therefore, a book for home experimentation with plant smoke.

List of plants

The first part of the book is a fascinating read and I was disappointed when it ended all too soon and gave way to the list of individual plant species.  This main part, the directory of individual plants, also contains some real gems, but I was left wishing that some of this information had been gathered together into a more discursive exposition that grouped plant smoke uses together in terms of other characteristics such as belief systems and geographical location.

The plant list also presents some problems for a lay reader. Despite a few line drawings of plants, it’s a rather dry prospect, visually,  and organised alphabetically by Latin plant names. So you either have to be prepared to browse this un-appetising-looking directory and dip in at random, or use the index to look up plants by their common names. In some cases this isn’t easy either.

For example, Papaver somniferum can be found in the index under ‘opium’  but not under ‘poppy’. You can only find plums if you happen to know that their botanic name is prunus. However, it does contain some fascinating revelations which repay the effort of finding your way around and it would be a very useful source book for anyone researching individual plant species in detail.

And there’s still much of interest here for the general reader. For example, anyone who has ever followed a recipe that requires you to dry-fry a fresh chili pepper will know that the resulting smoke can provoke a choking cough. So it’s interesting to discover that a tribe in Ecuador used to punish their children by making them stand over fires into which quantities of the plant had been thrown. An equally curious practice is the burning of a mix of garlic and pig excrement which has been used in Hungary to calm frightened children. Definitely not a recipe that many people will be tempted to try at home.

The future of plant smoke

Plant-derived smoke has a long history, but it also has a lot of future potential. The book’s preface offers the tantalising proposal that “few of the plants listed in this book have been studied for novel compounds that arise from the combustion of their parts. A whole new class of compounds quite possibly awaits discovery.” There may be a lot more uses for plant smoke and its derivatives.

Although this book remains morally neutral on the rights and wrongs of smoking various substances, it goes some way towards countering the view that plant smoke is always a bad thing.

This book was reviewed by Pauline Masurel, a Green Prophet guest writer

Uses & Abuses of Plant-Derived Smoke: Its Ethnobotany as Hallucinogen, Perfume, Incense & Medicine (Marcello Pennacchio, Lara Jefferson & Kayri Havens) Oxford University Press

More stories about plant uses:

TransAlgae Seeds A Need For Green Feed

4 Unique Aloe Vera Juice Recipes for Summer and Health

Are You Growing Poison In Your Garden?

image via Stinkie Pinkie

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