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Posts Tagged ‘research’

The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

By Richard Heinberg

swissarmyknifeThis book is like a Swiss army knife. Sharp. Simple. Very practical. Extremely useful. From Solar Heating to Sweet Potato Soup,  water-readiness to worms, and lollies made out of flowers. You can learn how to create walkable communities and/or become a medic-in-a hurry treating accidental electrocution. There is even a glossary of Surfspeak (useful I suppose for a beach disaster) and advice on how to loaf around more creatively. This book is especially designed to stand the test of time, and points out that the stone age didn’t come to an end through a lack of stones - that instead we moved on to a better, more creative, use of new technologies.

You can join our library and get books and DVDs out for Free!

World Vision

Friday, February 20th, 2009

What do they do?
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organisation dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome extreme poverty and injustice. World Vision New Zealand currently supports more than 70 projects in more than 25 countries.

How can I get involved?

  • Sponsoring a Child
  • Getting involved in a Charity Challenge (biking round Cambodia or climbing Mt Kilamanjaro are a few examples)
  • Volunteer to help run World Vision programmes in NZ
  • Participating in/running a 40-hour Famine
  • Donating directly
  • Getting involved in World Vision advocacy campaigns
  • Joining/starting a World Vision group at your school or university

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund)

Friday, February 20th, 2009

What do they do?
UNICEF - the United Nations Children’s Fund - is the world’s leading agency for children. UNICEF works closely with children, women and communities as well as governments, other UN agencies, faith-based groups, non-government organisations and the private sector to create a better world for every child.

How can I get involved?

Fundraise – Put the ‘fun’ back into fundraising!  Take part in a run, cycle, or swim while raising money for UNICEF.  It’s easy to make your own fundraising web page!

Campaign for Change - Make some noise and help shape better policies and practices for children.  Whether you write to your local MP about an issue affecting children, fill out one of our surveys or sign a petition, you’re helping affect change for a new generation of kids.  Join UNICEF’s Campaigners for Change by emailing for further updates.

Buy an Inspired GiftDoes your Dad need another pair of socks?  Why not help girls in Ghana go to school instead?  Purchase a bicycle for a girl in Ghana from our online shop and help give a better future to children!

- Your donation will go further with UNICEF! For every dollar donated, we can leverage $10 for children who need your help.

Volunteer - There are a number of ways that you can get involved with UNICEF NZ as a volunteer:

  • You can help out in their Wellington office with administration duties
  • You can help them with fundraising events
  • If you think you have some specific skills and experience that will be of value to them then you can apply for an internship

Quaker Peace and Service Aotearoa/New Zealand

Friday, February 20th, 2009


What do they do?
This is the arm of the Quakers (The Religious Society of Friends) in Aotearoa New Zealand that deals with social justice issues. They aim to give service and create peace in Quakerly ways.

How can I get involved?
If you are a young Quaker (aged between approximately 16 and 39) you can join the ‘Young Friends’. Regular meetings are held in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. At their annual camps, held over Easter, Young Friends have speakers come and talk to the group, where there will tend to be discussion on important issues related to justice and peace. Young Friends also pay to offset their carbon from camps, and aim to shop local and eat vegetarian as a means of reducing damage to the Earth.


Wednesday, January 14th, 2009


What do they do?

Caritas is the Catholic agency for justice, peace and development. Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is part of Caritas Internationalis, which is a confederation of 154 Catholic aid, development and social justice agencies from around the world. Caritas agencies work in over 198 countries: delivering aid, supporting development, and working for justice.

How can I be involved?


Campaigning – Caritas are involved in many campaigns, including Aid, Children, Cluster Munitions Crime and Punishment, Debt, Environmental Justice, HIV and AIDS, Human Rights Make Poverty History Millennium Development Goals, Submissions to NZ Government, and Trade. They offer excellent resources on their website to help you join with them to take action on these issues.

I’d like to buy some happiness please

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

By Houston Paea

Google happiness’ and here’s what you’ll find. Hundreds and thousands of hits’, each and every one of them dedicated to either:
a) showing you the way to self-actualisation’ (fancy term for doing what feels right for you, or what makes you feel fulfilled’)
b) offering you tips’ and pointers’ showing you the way to true happiness’, or (and this is often the most common one)
c) ads for books, interviews and tickets to seminars that all offer you the chance to experience true happiness…at the cost of a small, but serviceable Honda.
happy in a field of flowers
It’s almost like they’re telling you, nay, commanding you to be happy, and that happiness is only attainable via The Secret’ RRP $31.99.

Since when was happiness not just a personal feeling, but a commercial product? Christmas, Easter… all of these days have been commercialised to the point that for most they have lost their cultural or spiritual value, but surely our core human feelings and emotions should be left untouched by the pervasive grasp of commercialism? Well, obviously not. Self-help books have their own section in the bookshop. It is estimated that self-help books generate roughly ’£80m a year in Britain alone. In US, where the market is more established, they are worth more than $600m! Globally the happiness industry is worth billions. You can study happiness at university, look for it at clubs, workshops and seminars, find it in books and magazines, go on happiness retreats and cruises. Every trip into town, just look around at the people shopping; they’re shopping for happiness’.

Has it always been this hard to find happy? If anything, the influx of happy’ products flooding the market has caused more distress, as people see them and realise that their lives aren’t as good as they could be; completely forgetting that they were fine up until they read that book or saw that TV ad. piggy-bankHow sad that our psychological well-being can be so strongly influenced by commercialisation and clever marketing to the point that we are willing to give up our hard earned cash in pursuit of a little bit of plastic happiness.

Who IS happy then? There are a lot of ways to measure happiness and there have been countless surveys and studies to try and work out who the happiest people are and which is the happiest country. They use all sorts of measures examining wealth, education, health care, life expectancy, resource use. The results tend to differ with various studies claiming Denmark, Vanuatu and Nigeria all the happiest country. (New Zealand usually makes it to the top 20!) What they do agree on is that you probably can’t find true happiness for $31.99 at your local book shop!

A 2003 study of more than 65 countries published in the UK’s New Scientist magazine found Nigeria has the world’s happiest people. The survey findings seemed to confirm the old saying that money cannot buy happiness, in fact it found that consumerism, or the desire for material goods, is actually a happiness suppressant.

Based on the results the survey proposes that the PATHS TO HAPPINESS’ are:

  • Genetic propensity to happiness
  • Marriage
  • Make friends and value them
  • Desire less
  • Do someone a good turn
  • Have faith (religious or not)
  • Stop comparing your looks with others
  • Earn more money
  • Grow old gracefully
  • Don’t worry if you’re not a genius

Want some more happiness in your life?


  • old-lady-smilingLaugh! You could evold lady smilingen join a laughter club. The concept of laughter clubs was started in India about 10 years ago by Dr Kataria, who was doing research into the health benefits of laughter. He went to the local park gathering friends and family to come and laugh with him. It started with a few jokes with friends and has grown into a world wide phenomenon. There are now 5000 clubs all over the world, including a couple in NZ!
  • Talk to someone new. Talking to someone can bring unexpected surprises and you might make a new friend, or make a real difference in their life.
  • Join people around the world and celebrate World Laughter Day on 4 May.
  • Check out The Happy Planet Index which measures ecological efficiency alongside human well-being and happiness. Calculate your own happy planet index.


A blog of one woman who tested all the happiness tips, theories and experiments available for a year.
An interesting article about Gross National Happiness in Bhutan and the ideas and concepts behind it.
Check out the Gross International Happiness Project who want to take Bhutan’s idea to the rest of the world.
This website
has a great summary of some important thoughts on happiness by some of the world’s great philosophers.

Stem Cells - Potential, promises and problems

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

Storme Sen

Scientific and technological advances have propelled mankind into the modern era whether confronting us with new weapons of war that kill thousands or medical discoveries that save thousands. Scientists almost always start out with good intentions, but the question is what the end product will be used for, and if the end justifies the means. Alfred Nobel (patron of the celebrated Nobel Prizes) created the explosive, dynamite, which was later used in warfare and killed his brother on the battlefield. From then on he dedicated his life towards peace. Adolf Hitler’s scientists performed horrific experiments on the prisoners at concentration camps- is it morally acceptable that we use the information that they discovered? How far should we go in our quest for knowledge?

At Youth Parliament 2007 in Wellington, New Zealand, a select committee of Youth MPs gathered to discuss whether therapeutic cloning of stem cells should be allowed in their country. There was a range of different viewpoints on this issue represented at the select committee- such as those held by the Bioethics Council, the Nathaniel Centre (a catholic bioethics centre) and the Ministry of Health.

Stem cells
Stem CellsThe latest biological controversy is over stem cells and the process of therapeutic cloning. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells, cells that are not specialized yet into specific types such as skin cells. They are able to transform into any type of cell given the correct stimulation. Hence, these cells have the potential to repair damaged tissue and develop treatments for diseases such as chronic heart disease, Parkinson’s, and type I diabetes. These remarkable cells are located in the early embryo, the foetus, the placenta and in some mature tissues and organs throughout the body. The most recent discovery, in February 2007, by researchers from Auckland University in New Zealand and the Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden, revealed that stem cells can also be located in a certain area of the brain. Stem cells have the potential to revolutionize medical treatments; however, the obvious problem is that they are in hard to reach places.

The Controversy

Is it ethical to use embryos in scientific research?

Stem Cell2Embryonic stem cells are the easiest cells to isolate and manipulate. Unlike adult stem cells they are able to evolve into any other type of cell whereas an adult stem cell is limited in the cells it may transform into. For example, the stem cells found in a part of the brain can only change into different types of neurons. To discover the true potential of stem cells further research is needed and this would require a steady supply of them, indeed, much of the breakthrough research we have to date was performed on aborted foetuses and surplus IVF (in vitro fertilization) embryos.

The other issue lies around the concept of cloning. Therapeutic cloning is often mistaken for embryo cloning, when in fact embryos are not being cloned at all. Genetic material is taken from a cell in an adult’s body and fused with an empty egg cell. With the correct stimulation the new cell is able to grow into an embryo. The stem cells can then be harvested from the embryo for use in treatments or research. They do not intend to recreate life, but to create life-saving cells.

The Cons

Some people do not feel therapeutic stem cell cloning is ethical, and abortion itself is a controversial topic for many. There has been no therapeutic stem cell cloning in New Zealand thus far and the representatives from the Nathaniel Centre were adamant that it should stay that way. They expressed nothing but contempt for the idea of producing an embryo for the sole purpose of extracting a bunch a cells from it then destroying it, arguing that “it is a scientific fact that life begins from conception”. This in itself is a disputed argument, with a lot of disagreement about the moment an embryo is considered a human being. While those against therapeutic stem cell cloning argue for “the dignity of human life” others believe that aborted embryos or surplus IVF embryos (of which there are currently 5000-7000 and the maximum number of years they can be stored in New Zealand is ten) should be utilised instead of simply being destroyed.

Another concern was about where this sort of research is leading us? MoRST (the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology) assured the committee that any scientific exploits were monitored under strict regulations, however, what is to stop a rogue scientist from toying with nature? Could we be heading to the point of human cloning, many people’s worst fear, where we will be selecting genes to produce perfect individuals?

The Pros

SurgeryEmbryonic stem cells are thought by most scientists and researchers to hold amazing potential for finding cures for spinal cord injuries, cancer, heart disease, hundreds of rare immune system and genetic disorders and much more.

The huge advantage of the process of therapeutic stem cell cloning is that the genetic material of the stem cells and the patient are the same, so that there is no danger of rejection by the patient’s immune system. Currently, for example, when an organ is transplanted into a patient, that patient has to take strong immune suppressant drugs for the rest of their lives.

The Future

LabWhile stem cells hold tremendous potential, and there have been many promises made, the fact remains that this potential is far from being realised. There are many technical and ethical barriers to consider before stem cell based therapies become a reality.

While some members of the select committee at Youth Parliament believed that this sort of research is important for our continued scientific advancement, others felt that allowing therapeutic cloning in New Zealand might taint the clean and green natural image the country has and undermine New Zealand’s reputation of taking a strong stance in controversial areas like G.E. and nuclear power.

Currently, the therapeutic cloning of stem cells is permitted in Belgium, the UK and Sweden. Whether or not it will be permitted in New Zealand is yet to be seen, however, the select committee at Youth Parliament concluded that if stem cell research should only be allowed using surplus IVF embryos or aborted fetuses. The committee is also hopeful that soon scientists will find a way to manipulate adult stem cells to changing into any type of cell, which would nullify the use of embryonic stem cells.

Learn More:

Take Action

  • Get in contact with, or try and organise a class trip to, Auckland University’s Liggins Institute. This is the main place in Aotearoa New Zealand for research concerning embryos etc.
  • Interested in issues around bioethics? The RSNZ in association with Bioethics Council and the New Zealand Organisation of Rare Disorders run a yearly essay competition (with prizes!) on different ethical issues of biology
  • Organise a debate in class where you explore both sides of the issue.

The Pharmaceutical drugs industry: TRIPSy!

Monday, September 18th, 2006

Mariana Gledhill
assorted pillsEveryone in the world desires good health, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gives everyone in the world the right to have access to medical care that allows them to have adequate health and wellbeing. Pharmaceutical drugs are often able to help provide this, and help people live longer lives. However, not everyone is able to afford the drugs that they need to take in order to live.

“Big Pharma”
The “Big Pharma”, which make up the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, set prices high in order to make big profits (Robinson, 2001). Patents are put on drugs in order to stop other companies making cheaper copies of them. The Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) aspects of intellectual property agreement of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) backs these companies up. The WTO aims that by 2016, all countries in the world will have laws that will restrict companies from making drugs when they do not have a patent that will allow them to do so (Legrain, 2002).

The power of patents
The Big Pharma argue that honouring of patents is necessary, because they say that Research and Development is expensive. Without the honouring of patents, drug companies will not want to make new drugs. This claim has been disputed. The largest drug companies are the most profitable in the world and they only spend 15% of their budgets on Research and Development, which mostly involves the testing of the drugs.(Angell, 2004)

Where do the drugs come from?
bottle of pillsThe drug companies do not actually discover the new drugs; chemists who are based in universities and other training institutions do. Drug companies merely buy the compounds off these developers. Some of these compounds are existent in nature, but residents of the areas where they have been found do not usually benefit from them.

One example is the Neem tree, which is found in India. This tree is known in Sanskrit as Sarva Roga Nivarini, ‘the curer of all ailments’ and it has been used by Indians for thousands of years in various medicines and fertilizers (Davis, 1998). However, the rights to this tree were sold to W. R. Grace & Co. in 1988. Patenting of natural products by companies for the sake of profit is common, and existing intellectual property laws do not give indigenous people much room to claim the knowledge that their ancestors bequeathed to them (Davis, 1998).

Where is the money in pharmaceuticals?
Drug companies spend most of their budgets on the marketing of drugs, rather than research and development. Big sellers are drugs that are popular in the global North: drugs for conditions such as hay fever, and impotency. There is not much money in drugs for the diseases that attack the populations of the South, and even when there is, drugs are not often made available to these people.

When they are, drug companies milk a lot of publicity from them. This is not to say that they do not make huge differences to people’s lives. Onchoceriasis, also known as river blindness, was a disease that made everyone in Fougadougou, Mali, blind. Now Merek and Co. distribute a drug in this village that prevents onchoceriasis . This has given Fougadougou new life (British Broadcasting Corporation, 2006).

A personal example
Millions of people in the South are affected by AIDS and HIV. I know one of them. She is a girl whom I will call Juanita*. Juanita is barely ten years old and she has recently developed AIDS. She is a bright girl, who is ahead of the other girls in her class, despite having to take lots of time off school due to her condition. She is an affectionate girl who loves playing with dolls. She probably won’t have a 15th birthday. This girl comes from Peru, where the generic drugs that the big Pharma demonise cost about one US dollar a day. This is too expensive for many people in Peru. AIDS drugs made by the big Pharma, with their patents, cost tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Drug companies say that cheap drugs in the South will cut their profits. That is not true. Drug companies are not going to profit from poor people who often earn a fraction of what the drugs they need cost each year (Legrain, 2002). Drug companies provide drugs that often save lives, but that purpose seems to be in second place to making money, and agreements such as the TRIPS ones are encouraging this trend.
hands holding pills
So what is the answer?
Some people say the answer to the problem is greater regulation, (Angell, 2004) and others think that drug companies should be owned by governments, who can be voted out when they do not what is best for the voters. Drug companies are controversial at the moment. Award winning books have been written about their mistakes and an Oscar winning film has been made about the corruption that exists within them. If they are to improve the health of the world’s people, something needs to change.

* Her real name is not Juanita. I have changed it out of respect for her privacy.



Angell, Marcia (2004) The truth about the drug companies : how they deceive us and what to do about it New York: Random House

Marcia Angell is a doctor who thinks that drug companies need saving from themselves. Her argument is very persuasive, and her insider status in the medical profession is valuable.

Legrain, Philippe (2002) Open World:/ The Truth About Globalisation London: Abacus

Philippe LeGrain has written a book defending free trade. I do not agree with much of what he writes, but the chapter that he is written on the drugs industry (Patently Wrong) disagrees with the TRIPS agreement and sets out a number of reasons why TRIPS is not only immoral but anti free trade’.

Robinson, Jeffrey (2001) Prescription games : money, ego and power inside the global pharmaceutical industry London : Simon & Schuster

Jeffery Robinson’s book is an attack on Big Pharma, and is easy to read. It makes for compelling and chilling reading. Warning: it might make you get quite angry!


Atwood, Margaret (2003) Oryx and Crake London: Bloomsbury

Margaret Atwood is a prizewinning author. Oryx and Crake is a book about what happens when drug companies have too much power and are not regulated. Although this book is set in the future, it touches on many of the ethical problems that the world currently faces with drug companies.

Le Carre, John (2002) The Constant Gardiner London: Sceptre

This book is a murder mystery that ends up being related to corrupt drug companies testing their drugs on unsuspecting people in Africa. In the course of these tests, many people die. An award-winning movie has been made of this book, which Roger Ebert has called the movie of the year for 2005 (I have not seen it).

Other Cited Resources:

British Broadcasting Corporation Miracle Village

This photo journal is about the village of Fougadougou the problems with Onchoceriasis and how the village has changed with the arrival of a preventative drug.

Davis, Michael Biological Diversity and Indigenous Knowledge Research Paper 17 1997-98
This is about how patents on natural substances impact badly on indigenous peoples.

United Nations (1948) “Universal Declaration on Human Rights”

New Internationalist Issue on Big Pharma, Issue 32 in November 2003


  • Yuck, No Thanks in Big Pharma, New Internationalist, has some really ideas about taking action globally.
  • New Zealand is a very small slice of the Big Pharma market, and compared to other countries, we have easy access to the drugs we need. The government subsidises many high cost drugs and people on low incomes can get their prescriptions for reduced prices. However, there are some drugs that are still not sold in New Zealand due to the regulation industry, Pharmac, not allowing them to be sold or subsidised. Lobbying of Pharmac might give some people access to the drugs that can save their lives.
  • Advertising for drugs is currently legal in New Zealand. Now I have nothing against Jude Dobson, but I think that it is a real shame that Drug companies can advertise their products under the pretense of educating people. Maybe you can write a letter to the Health minister calling for the abolishment of advertising by drug companies.
  • Find some isolated areas where injustice is happening in relation to this area. Then talk to the media, find the drug that will help the people and lobby the company(ies) that supply it. If anything happens, it will not change the roots of the injustice, but it will change the lives of some people.

The Future of Food - Review

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

By Lena Stahlschmidtfutureoffood_photo

The information that the film presents is so interesting and terrifying that I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. Although the format is what some may call a little dry’ the movie had my full attention the entire time. This is the type of film that you’d expect to see in class; educational, informative and no Hollywood action scenes’.

The movie presents food in the 21st century: the way we grow it, the way we mess with it and the current corruption, deceit, and dangers that exist. It also gives an even dimmer outlook of our planet’s future related to food. The movie looks at the many aspects of genetic engineering ranging from the cellular make-up to its global impact. The main focus is on the lack of studies, precautions, and knowledge about the effects of GE and the role that the American government and agriculture companies played in the development of GE food.

It is a documentation of corruption, deceit, money, and power that has lead to our generation being the guinea pig in the fight for the global control over food. The issues raised in this movie are crucial to the sustainability of our planet and existence.

Stars: 4 ****

Find out more.
Learn more about where New Zealand stands in genetic engineering Here is what another Just Focus members had to say.

Take Action!!!

Food Altert.

The Campaign


Is this really progress?

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Oliver Bruce

sao paolo skylineEver seen the news when the government releases its figures for the economic activity over the last year or quarter? Ever wondered what it all meant? Or why, even though we seem to be making “progress”, often it has little impact on our lives in our community?

The Origins of our Success
At present, we measure how we are doing economically as a country with something called the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It was first created during the Second World War as a way of measuring productivity, and has been in place ever since as a way of measuring the size and growth of economies. It is formulated as being the total amount of spending (both governmental and private as well as investment) and exports of a country minus the imports.

Why might we be heading in the wrong direction?
If a woman was to get breast cancer, does that sit with you as being a good or bad thing? If we use the GDP to measure our “progress”, you will find that the cost of the chemotherapy, drugs, surgery, hospital visits, fuel to get to the hospital etc. are all contributing to the GDP of a country, that would not have been spent if she hadn’t got sick. This illustration reveals the dilemma: not all economic growth is actually contributing to the wellbeing of those in society. In fact, most undesirable factors (oil spills, unsustainable native forestry etc) are considered to be beneficial to the economy. And where does that lead us?
man throwing money
Where might we go from here?
In the mid 1980’s it was identified that we needed to look at the way we were measuring progress. Thanks to the work of people like NZer Marilyn Waring and Professor Herman Daly in the field of uneconomic development (identifying that some economic activity creates a decline in human wellbeing) there have been several attempts at creating newer, more realistic looks at how to measure our economic gains and impact. One such measure called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) was formulated to take into account such things as crime and income distribution, and balance these measures with that of economic activity.

Why is GPI better?

This means that the picture that is presented of our ‘progress’ directly correlates to the issues that determine our standard of living (such as how safe we are). It’s a far more holistic representation of what is going on both economically, socially and environmentally - which is integral in shifting how we measure our progress, and our subsequent actions, towards causing positive change. Sustainable development is a concept based on the balance of these three pillars’: economic, social and environmental development.

Why is how we measure things so important?
Decisions made by policymakers (governments, councils and the like) are based upon wanting to progress and work towards a better quality of life. As the saying goes, “when you have a hammer in your hand, every problem starts looking like a nail”. When you have a measurement as narrowly focussed as that of the GDP, the decisions made will often not have the intended effects. It is not a simple matter to explain, and the answers are not black and white. What is important is that we recognise that what we have isn’t serving us, and that we need to work towards implementing better methods of analysis so that we can accurately aim towards a better world.


  • For a more in depth explanation on the Genuine Progress Indicator visit Converge website
  • Read the Wikipedia entry on GDP
  • For more information on the other methods of measuring progress, and environmental impact, look at the Redefining Progress website
  • Check out work by Marilyn Waring, including her book “Counting for Nothing” and her documentary “Who’s Counting?” For more information on the theories of uneconomic development (Remember this woman was in government at age 23!) Read about her on wikipedia
  • The magazine Adbusters explains the problem well
  • The documentary “The Corporation” explains the problem faced with the institution of the multinational corporation. A fantastic film that explains more about the problems of not valuing that which cannot be quantified. This can be borrowed FREE from the Global Education Centre library. Contact for details.


  • Tell people.
  • If you are at university, ask the economic professors about the questions.
  • Read more.
  • Make a film for the Media that Matters festival ;)

To tell you the truth, one of the most difficult things about this is that there are few concrete actions that can directly impact this. The process of change requires first for us to realise what we are doing, then actively seek to help change the course of the field of economics towards that of a more holisitic discipline…in other words do the same thing to economics that has affected nearly every other academic discipline = Postmodernist thought.

But yeah, it’s not as simple as that. If you have any ideas let me know, I am happy to hear what any of you suggest — comment in the forum…