Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Slow Science, Slow Food, Slow Down

When we rush, we make decisions that lack information, lack proper reflection, and ultimately make the problems of humanity worse.
Credit: Flickr/Innovate Impact Media. Some rights reserved.
“Where ignorance is your master, there is no possibility of peace.” The XIV Dalai Lama.
The scientific contributions of Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman were fundamental for the construction of the atomic bomb. Today, their reflections on the subject are also fundamental for the survival and evolution of our species. Conversations with both scientists after the Manhattan Project indicate that each felt remorse for their involvement. They wished they had thought through their direct and indirect involvement more thoroughly, and said that if they had known what their work would lead to they might have acted differently.
These quotes from Einstein are glimpses of his perspective:
“I made one great mistake in my life—when I signed the letter to President [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made. Had I known that Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I never would have lifted a finger. The unleashing of the power of the atom bomb has changed everything except our mode of thinking…Science has brought forth this danger, but the real problem is in the minds and hearts of men. We scientists must consider it our solemn and transcendent duty to do all in our power to prevent these weapons from being used for the brutal purpose for which they were invented. Non cooperation in military matters should be an essential moral principle for all true scientists.” 
Feynman joined the Manhattan Project as an enthusiastic and energetic 24 year-old. Later in his life—after recovering from a severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—he said this:
“One should reconsider perpetually one’s reasons for doing something, because it may be that the circumstances have changed… I don’t guarantee you as to what conclusion I would have come to if I had thought about it, but nevertheless the fact that I did not think about it was, of course, wrong.” 
What I hear when I translate the language of these two geniuses into my perspective is this: we were going too fast. We are still going too fast. When we rush, we make decisions that lack information, lack proper reflection, and ultimately make the problems of humanity worse.
Now is the time to slow down, to take a pause, to rethink the purpose of science and education and to cultivate our critical thinking—and our critical feeling. It is time to combine science with the soul: science as the sustainable, collective and critical development of knowledge; soul as the individual and collective capacity to make wise use of that knowledge; ultimately, the ability to rejoice in the welfare of all living beings. Bertrand Russell echoed this postulation when he wrote: “The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.” 
As a scientist, I am not against science. I am against the unethical applications of science. I represent a new generation that rescues the best of previous generations. Formed by millions of citizens of the World, this generation wants to be part of the mass that weighs on the positive side of the balance of the survival of our species. It’s a generation that cares about our planet; a generation that cares about the future of humankind; a generation that sees the big picture and the interconnectedness of our magnificent cultural and biological diversity.
We, the new generation, believe that the purpose of education is to help students to become more fully developed human beings, to help students discover meaning and passion in life, to develop critical minds and sensitive hearts, and to become knowledgeable about the peoples, inherited wisdoms, and subject matters that will help them find their path in the creation of a more peaceful, just, sustainable, and diverse World.
For us then, universities must be not centers of military recruitment or corporate indoctrination, or obedience to totalitarianism and support of the (dis)order of the non-egalitarian status quo, but they must be epicenters of critical thinking, inspiration, creativity, imagination, justice, freedom and true democracy.
The support of the development of weapons is an example of the contradiction between the purpose of education and the decisions made by some of the regents of the University of California (UC) in the history of this institution: since the Los Alamos Laboratory opened its doors in 1943, every single nuclear weapon built for the United States arsenal was designed at a UC managed weapons laboratory. 
A nonviolent generation with many perspectives.
Paraphrasing Gandhi, to overcome the greatest destructive weapon humans have invented one needs the greatest power humankind has been endowed with: nonviolence. Just as peace is more than the absence of war, nonviolence is more than the absence of violence. It is not simply the negation to cause harm, but it is something infinitely more: it is when one’s heart is so full of love, so full of courage, forgiveness, generosity, kindness and compassion, that there is no room for hatred, resentment and violence. It is not a double negative but a superlative positive.
Nonviolence is a call to disobey inhumane laws and treaties; it is a call to obey the law of love; it is a call to not control anger but to express it under discipline for maximum effects; it is a positive force; it is a way of life: the thoughts we have, the things we say, the food we eat, the cloths we wear, the things we do. The members of this new generation are pragmatic idealists who try to “walk their talk.” Their means are their ends. They are trying to embody what Martin Luther King Jr. called “love in action.” 
This young generation is formed by conservatives, liberals, moderates, anarchists, religious and secular people. We all are catalysts who honor all perspectives to be closer to the truth. I am a progressive, a conservative, a liberal, an anarchist, in short: a perspectivist. In other words, our generation is formed by citizens of the world who promote dialogue, tolerance and rooted values. In most respects, I continue to align with what I grew up believing to be conservative values. Yet I find I have nothing in common with extremists of the far right who advance an agenda of class warfare, fiscal irresponsibility, government intrusions on personal liberty, and reckless international military adventurism as conservative causes.
At the same time, I have nothing to approve of in extremists of the far left who advocate violence and a new way of totalitarianism which keeps attacking the human spirit. At the same time too, I’m not an anarchist as defined in the encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc. written by the hierarchies and their corporate media, I’m engaged and in love with the voluptuous authority of collective intelligence; with her hugs of education, respect and peace; and with her kisses of justice, true democracy and freedom.
To be consistent with this new generation, one of my contributions is that I did not want to receive a title from an irresponsible institution that is putting at risk the survival of our species. Hence, this semester, after almost four years of interacting with the amazing and beautiful people of the Astronomy department as a graduate student and instructor—after seven years of following the fascinating path of Astrobiology—I withdrew from the University of California at Berkeley and will have nothing to do with that institution until it stops being involved in the research, production and manufacture of nuclear weapons.
In evolutionary time scales, I believe that violence and science are mutually exclusive; the two cannot coexist in the long run. Vinoba Bhave was quite aware of this: “Violence must be done away with if science is to survive," he wrote, "If both are sought to be retained, mankind, along with its science also, would be destroyed.” This disastrous combination inhibits the development of critical inquiry, he explains, because “our thinking becomes narrow and circumscribed if we are associated with any organization which will not be fully conductive for the quest of nonviolence.” 
If we want to stop the proliferation of atomic bombs, it would be a good idea to stop producing them ourselves. If the government of the United States justifies nuclear weapons for its national security, why wouldn’t other countries construct atomic bombs for their own national security? This is not about “national security” but Global Security, Human Security—reconciliation and mutual respect between the peoples of the Earth is what really makes for peace and security in the long run, each country can be secure only when all are secure: the Earth is but one country and all living beings her citizens.
The political and intellectual prestige of the UC can be used not for justifying annihilatory purposes but for creating an artistic-scientific-spiritual-rational and humanitarian society. Just because we are students studying art, economics, engineering, peace and conflict studies, landscape architecture or astrophysics that doesn’t mean that we have to be part of an institution that develops new “safer weapons of mass destruction”. What if, rooted in the purpose of education as true seekers, the citizens of the World decide to noncooperate, according to their capabilities, with the UC until this institution stops being involved in the research, production and manufacture of nuclear weapons?
But this is not just about finding ways to abolish nuclear weapons and move on from this survival crisis. We are missing a great opportunity to convert swords into plowshares. We must divert their purpose into something constructive for humanity. What about protecting us from the impact of a large asteroid or comet to avoid a mass extinction of life on the Planet? We might be able to use nuclear explosives for a near asteroid burst to ablate surface material and nudge the body to a safer orbit, or a direct sub-surface burst to fragment the body.
That’s the difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing.
As a starting point we can slow down, pause, rethink and heal from the cancer of violence which starts to disappear from our minds. Eknath Easwaran, a disciple of Gandhi who brought many of his teachings to the West, said: 
“It is essential not to confuse slowness with sloth, which breeds procrastination and general inefficiency. In slowing down, we attend meticulously to details, giving the very best we are capable of even to the smallest undertaking.”
That is exactly what we need to do.
A longer version of this article was published on Earthling Opinion

Monday, 17 July 2017

Why the Eco-City Needs to Be a Just City

File 20170711 13828 i39l02
Why is it easier to imagine a green ecocity than a just city where everyone belongs? the yes man/flickr, CC BY
Stephen Healy, Western Sydney University
This is one of a series of articles to coincide with the 2017 Ecocity World Summit in Melbourne.

Why is it easier to imagine an ecocity – full of lush green spaces and buildings, footpaths and bike lanes, outdoor goat yoga and dog parks – than a just city where everyone belongs? Why is it difficult to imagine a city where there are no great disparities of income or of access to convivial life because these have been equitably distributed?

The prospects for rebuilding the city along ecological lines is enchanting. But ecocities, like smart cities, frequently devolve into a techno-fetishist fantasy, (un)wittingly abetting gentrification – from the sell-off of public housing in cities like Sydney to violent informal housing eradication in places like Jakarta.

Part of what’s required here is to connect the currents of imagination shaping the ecological future of cities with other conversations that are more focused on the future of employment and industry and the possibilities for greater equity. Thinking these disparate ideas together will take some work. Fortunately, it’s well under way in cities around Australia and the world.

The Centre For Future Work and the Australia Institute organised a summit last month at Parliament House to consider the future of manufacturing in Australia. Much of the day was spent exploring how targeted government procurement practices can help rebuild a sector that could play a vital role in building ecocities alongside new employment opportunities.

Co-operative ways to build community wealth

Non-profit institutions and the private sector can play a similar role. The Evergreen Cooperative Initiative in Cleveland, closing in on its tenth year, used the demand for services from hospitals and universities to start worker co-operatives.

These meet the need for green laundry services, food and energy while creating ownership opportunities for low-income residents. Guaranteed downstream markets increase business viability. This ensures easier access to start-up capital.

Dozens of US cities have developed similar initiatives in the past decade. Among these are union-supported initiatives in Cincinnati, Ohio, municipal initiatives in Richmond, California, and multi-stakeholder co-operatives in Springfield, Massachusetts.

In each instance the guiding principle is that worker co-operatives are tied to place by the people who work in and own them. They distribute profits in ways that benefit worker-owners, other local businesses and the broader community.

In Australia, Earthworker Coo-perative has tirelessly pursued a similar initiative. It aims to connect Australian manufacturing capacity, eco-friendly technologies, unions and the environmental movement as a basis for starting worker co-operatives ready to meet the demand for green technology.

Organisations like the Mercury Co-Operative and the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals are working to support and spread co-operative ownership in Australia.

In September, a second New Economy Conference, open to the public, will consider what sort of legal and social changes are needed to support efforts like Earthworker.

More ambitiously, even the emergent disruptive technologies that are enabling the “gig economy” can be repurposed for co-operation and community wealth creation.

While new platform technologies concentrate wealth in companies like Uber and Airbnb, these could just as easily function on a co-operative basis, sustaining communities in the process. Such ideas are being actively considered in Melbourne and in Sydney at last year’s Vivid festival.

These efforts to encourage social procurement, build co-operatives and develop new forms of sharing work readily combine with the ecocity agenda. In themselves they are not sufficient to ensure that ecocities are also equitable cities. As Labor senator Kim Carr pointed out in last month’s summit, what ideas like this do is fully open the question of what an economy is for.

In Australia, this question is an eminently urban one. Continuing to ask this question, and keeping the answer open, is one way of ensuring that ecocities are not merely oases for the wealthy.

The ConversationYou can read other articles in the series here. The Ecocity World Summit is being hosted by the University of Melbourne, Western Sydney University, the Victorian government and the City of Melbourne in Melbourne from July 12-14.

Stephen Healy, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Friday, 14 July 2017

How Cities Are Improving Low-Income Access to Parks: These five standout communities are working to make sure underprivileged communities have access to green spaces

If you live within a ten-minute walk of a public park, count yourself lucky. For millions of Americans, urban outdoor recreation spaces are few and far between and usually require a drive. As a result, it’s often hardest for those living in low-income neighborhoods to access parks. But cities are increasingly making an effort to distribute resources more fairly. “The whole issue of equity has become very important within just the last two to three years,” says Adrian Benepe, director of city parks development for the Trust for Public Land (TPL), which has scored cities annually on their parks since 2012.
To determine if cities are adequately serving their low-income communities, TPL’s ParkScore looks at spending, acreage, and household access—whether there is a park within a ten-minute walk for those who make less than 75 percent of a city’s median income. Of course, proximity doesn’t necessarily equate to a high-quality park. “One thing we don’t measure is: Is it safe? Clean? Beautiful?” says Benepe. But he notes that ParkScore is really just a way to begin a conversation about investment in parks. “We give them interactive tools that they can use in planning—where to locate new parks and where to optimize existing ones.”
In TPL’s most recent rankings, these five cities stood out for reaching low-income neighborhoods.

#5. Arlington, Virginia

Percentage of low-income residents within 10 minutes of a park:98
Arlington obtained top marks in parks-related spending, at $229.93 per resident (just ahead of Washington, D.C.), and was rated highly for its number of facilities, from dog parks to basketball hoops to recreation centers and playgrounds. In 2016, the county finished its Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment, setting open-space acquisition as a top priority to maintain its high ranking.

#4. Chicago, Illinois

Percentage of low-income residents within 10 minutes of a park: 98
A study of park spending between 2011 and 2014 found that more than half of the $500 million devoted to Chicago’s park improvements went to only ten of the city’s 77 neighborhoods (most of which were affluent). So, in 2016, volunteers organized in low-income neighborhoods to identify improvements. They sought hundreds of thousands of dollars of private funding and pushed elected officials to split the cost. The result: building a new soccer field and playground in Kelly Park and fixing run-down baseball diamonds—and ultimately buoying Chicago to a top spot.

#3. New York, New York

Percentage of low-income residents within 10 minutes of a park: 98
In 2014, the city launched its Community Parks Initiative to improve historically underfunded parks in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty. The initiative invested $285 million in more than 60 community parks that had gone decades without proper maintenance or upgrades.

#2. Boston, Massachusetts

Percentage of low-income residents within 10 minutes of a park: 99
With a 1,100-acre chain of nine parks linked by parkways and waterways, bordering some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods (like Fenway), Boston grabs the second spot for low-income access. Though the city received a lower grade for park spending—$111.59 per resident—it ranks near the top when it comes to parkland as a percentage of the city’s total area.

#1. San Francisco, California

Percentage of low-income residents within 10 minutes of a park: 100
San Francisco has done a stellar job across all income levels. The median park size is 1.6 acres, and parkland makes up 20 percent of the city’s total area. San Francisco also recently completed a review of its park system to assess whether money was being equally invested across all demographics. From there, the city highlighted the areas that were economically stressed and will incorporate those metrics into the parks department’s strategic plan.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Our Pets Strengthen Neighbourhood Ties

Lisa Wood, University of Western Australia, The Conversation: http://theconversation.com/our-pets-strengthen-neighbourhood-ties-79755

File 20170626 29078 jm23rk
When dog owners meet, it helps build a safe and connected community. Wrote/flickr, CC BY-NC

Talk to any pet owner and you are bound to invoke stories about the joy and companionship of having a pet. But evidence is mounting that the effect of pets extends beyond their owners and can help strengthen the social fabric of local neighbourhoods. Now a cross-national study involving Perth, Australia, and three US cities has lent weight to the observation that pets help build social capital.

This is not a frivolous notion, given the erosion of sense of community is often lamented. As Hugh Mackay recently observed, not knowing our neighbours has become a sad cliché of contemporary urban life.

I stumbled into pet-related research some 15 years ago when undertaking a PhD on neighbourhoods and sense of community. I was curious about the elements of a neighbourhood that might help people connect to one another, so I threw some in some survey questions about pets.

In what has become my most-cited academic paper, we found that pet owners were more likely to have higher social capital. This is a concept that captures trust between people (including those we don’t know personally), networks of social support, the exchange of favours with neighbours and civic engagement.

Fast-forward a decade to a much larger study to look at the relationship between pets and social capital. Pet owners and non-owners were randomly surveyed in four cities (Perth, San Diego, Portland and Nashville – four cities reasonably comparable in size, urban density and climate).

In all four cities, we found owning a pet was significantly associated with higher social capital compared with not owning a pet. This held true after adjusting for a raft of demographic factors that might influence people’s connections in their neighbourhood.

How do pets help build social bonds?

It is often assumed that the social benefits of pets are confined to social interactions that occur when people are out walking their dogs. Lots of dog owner anecdotes support this. In this large sample study, however, levels of social capital were higher among pet owners across the board.

We did nonetheless find that social capital was higher among dog owners and those who walked their dogs in particular. Dog owners were five times more likely to have got to know people in their neighbourhood. This makes sense, as dogs are the most likely to get us outside the home.

Yet our survey data and qualitative responses show that a variety of pets can act as a social lubricant. Pets are a great leveller in society, owned and loved by people across social, age and racial strata.

Perhaps it is having something in common with other people that strikes a chord, regardless of the type of pet.

What does this mean for how we live?

That pets can help build social capital is not just a social nicety or quirky sociological observation. Hundreds of studies internationally show that social capital is a positive predictor for a raft of important social indicators, including mental health, education, crime deterrence, and community safety.

Given pets are entrenched in the lives and homes of many Australians, it makes sense to tap into this as a way to strengthen the social fabric of local communities.

Not everyone can or wants to own a pet. But two-thirds of the population does, so our cities and neighbourhoods need to be “pet friendly”.

Australian suburbs are generally pretty good for walkable parks and streets. In this study, we also found that having dog walkers out and about contributes to perceptions of community safety.

Given the broad social benefits of pet ownership, perhaps we need to rethink ‘no pets’ rules where possible. Ed Brey/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

However, in Australia, pets have traditionally belonged to people living in detached housing with backyards. Many rental properties, apartment complexes, and retirement villages still default to a “no pets” policy.

Other countries, where renting and higher-density living is more the norm, seem more accepting of pets across the housing spectrum.

Given ageing populations, housing affordability and the need to curb urban sprawl are critical social trends in many countries (including Australia), maybe we need to recalibrate our notions of who can own a pet and where they can live. This is not to say that pets have to be allowed everywhere, but the default to “no pets allowed” is questionable.

My father-in-law in his 80s, for example, couldn’t downsize to a retirement complex because his extremely docile rescue greyhound exceeded the “10kg pet” rule. He couldn’t bear to part with Moby, a faithful companion through whom he met many local residents daily at the park nearby.

Constant companions in times of change

A lot of my current research is around homelessness. Chatting recently with a man who was homeless with his dog on the streets of Melbourne, he told me how his dog gets him up in the morning, keeps him safe at night, and gets them both walking daily.

His dog was one of the few stable things in his life, so he needed a public housing option that would allow pets.

People who are homeless also need crisis accommodation options that accept their pets. Hence it is great to see places such as Tom Fisher House in Perth, opening its doors to rough sleepers with pets needing a safe place to sleep.

Beyond the practical implications for pet-friendly cities, the potential for pets to enrich the social fabric of communities has strong appeal in an era of global uncertainty, frenetic “busyness” and technology-driven communications. As cultural analyst Sheryl Turkle has said, the ways people interact and forge relationships have undergone massive change and we can end up “connected, but alone”.

Sherry Turkle talks about why we expect more from technology and less from each other.

The ConversationBy contrast, humans have been drawn to companion animals since early civilisation. In many people’s lives, they remain a tangible constant that can yield enduring social capital benefits.

Lisa Wood, Associate Professor, Centre for Social Impact and School of Population Health, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.