January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
Also in this editorial:
‘You are what you eat’ has probably been around as a slogan for forty or fifty years now, if not possibly longer, and like many such aphorisms it has many grains or grams of truth but does not tell the whole story. Diet and what we consume does have an effect on us, though sometimes in a complex way, but it is only one factor in life (however diet, as meat eating western diet, does have major ramifications for world ecology).
The state, more so in the UK than in Ireland, is often labelled a ‘nanny state’, mainly by right-wingers who resent the intrusion of the state on issues where they would like the market to reign supreme. But a recent report reveals how little the state does to act in citizens’ interests where there is a clash with giant corporations. We refer to British government sponsored research published during September in the medical journal the Lancet showing the clear danger to children of consuming artificial additives in food. The consumption of these can lead to hyperactivity and disruptive behaviour – effects which can seriously damage a child’s life chances and learning, and set up patterns for adult life which cause problems for the individuals concerned and for everyone in society. The research was designed to replicate what children might consume as part of a ‘normal’ diet. There are other issues for everyone, adults included, about potentially harmful additives, such as the ubiquitous aspartame, which may be carcinogenic or have other harmful effects, which were not addressed in this study.
As a result of this report, the British Food Standards Agency gave revised advice to consumers telling them to avoid certain E-numbers if their children showed signs of hyperactivity or attention hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In other words, parents and guardians should read the small print on labels (where they even exist) to see what to avoid. It passed the buck to the European Food Safety Authority for it to make decisions on any possible bans – despite campaigning groups having known the relevant information for decades. The answer, however, is clear. All suspect additives should be banned immediately. The idea that all parents and guardians are going to, or can, check the labels of everything that their children consume is absolutely ludicrous. This is a clear dereliction of duty by the British government to the people of the UK. The Irish government has done nothing either.
Food corporations use artificial additives for a variety of reasons but one primary one – profit. Of course some products may be more expensive with only natural and safe ingredients (and some might be difficult to market at all) but governments are permitting violence against their citizens when they permit injurious substances to be consumed in this way where it would be very easy to regulate. Artificial additives which are featured in a report such as the one mentioned here, as well as ones which have questionable effects for all, children and adults, should be banned immediately or phased out within a short time period (say one year) to allow the food industry to get its act together, fast. There should be no pandering to the profits of the food industry but a clear defence of citizens’ health and wellbeing.
Once upon a time, and not so long ago, in a land known as Ireland, there was the myth that all was pure and holy and no one got up to any dirty business like making arms. Of course it was a myth – Shorts Missile Systems (now Thales), for example, has been around for a long time – but part of the relative absence of the arms trade was simply the absence of industry, full stop, and the lack of international trade, and transparency where the arms trade did exist. Different groups have played a role in publicising the real situation currently, including notably Afri, but two recent reports from Amnesty International, respectively in Northern Ireland and the Republic, give excellent detail on what is going on (see news section this issue and last one).
There are some within the nonviolent movement who decry the fact that Amnesty is not opposed to the arms trade per se, merely to human rights abuses associated with it (and there are many). This is an unduly narrow approach and belittles the fact that Amnesty International has played an important role in publicising what the true situation is, North and South. Of course Amnesty has its own approach, and that is fair enough. The fact that we would go further and seek to eliminate this pernicious industry altogether does not mean that we cannot cooperate with others, and benefit from their work. Challenging governments to take their responsibilities seriously in this area will require much work and pressure, and we can all do our bit.
In Northern Ireland there is the irony of a place exiting from violence contributing significantly to violence elsewhere. This irony is lost on some who consider jobs above morality and human coexistence. Jobs are important and mean that we cannot ‘magic’ away arms-related industries but it is not in accord with any kind of morality to support jobs whatever they do. Finding alternative production, and developing research into positive products rather than weapons and parts for destruction, is a major challenge.
As we move from an economic growth oriented economy, as we must to respond to global warming, we have the opportunity to ask wider questions such as “What is this industry for?” in the context of “Where do we want our economy to go?”. Profiting from the potential destruction of others, and, in any case, profiting from money wasted on weapons, is an area of human endeavour that we seek to move beyond. And that requires a long and hard struggle to persuade people and organise alternatives.
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column
The international scientific authority on climate change is the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It recently said that global warming was now so advanced that it could not be avoided and that the effects of the rise are already being experienced around the world, with the poorest countries and poorest people suffering the most. They also said:
“If warming is not kept below two degrees centigrade, which will require the strongest mitigation efforts, and currently looks very unlikely to be achieved, the substantial global impacts will occur; such as species extinction, and millions of people at risk from drought, hunger and flooding.”
There is now little scientific doubt that climate change is a fact of life and that as the global temperature rises the biosphere will undergo fundamental change, which in turn will bring economic, social and political change. This will mean that almost all of what we consider normal, define our lives and give us a sense of purpose will be gone. The rapidity of the predicted changes will not only cause physical hardship for almost everyone, including us on this small island, but will also cause many to experience severe psychological shock.
We all know that change is not without emotional consequences. Even well prepared for changes such as our child’s first day at school, moving house, and starting a new job can be quite stressful. The disruption of our daily routines can be stressful with people describing such in terms of ‘having a bad day’.
We should thus expect that with climate change, when almost everything that is familiar is taken away from us, when our conception of what life is about is no longer valid, to suffer emotional shock. We will also likely experience grief, guilt, vulnerability, and a profound sense of being lost. The shock might be akin to what travellers experience when they are in a new culture completely cut off from a life-times worth of experiences and social reference points, and where the survival skills they acquired at home, school and work are effectively redundant. In addition we may have to cope with mass social unrest, and wars between countries for scare resources. As a recent edition of Time magazine documents, countries are already making competing claims to the mineral resources under the melting ice in the Arctic.
There is now little doubt that in the lifetime of most of us climate change will mean living in a new world. Preparation, both practical and emotional, will enable us to better cope with the challenges this will bring. In the meantime we should all make an effort to cut down on our emission of the gasses that cause climate change and put pressure on our political leaders to take the issue seriously.