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Posts Tagged ‘resources’

Material World - A Global Family Portrait

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

By Peter Menzel

material_photo11For the photos in this stunning book, photographers spent one week living with a “statistically average” family in each country, learning about their work, their attitudes toward their possessions, and their hopes for the future. Then a “big picture” shot of the family was taken outside the dwelling, surrounded by all their (many or few) material goods. Statistics and a brief history for each country are included as well as personal notes from the photographers about their experiences.

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Addictd 2 da fone

Monday, April 16th, 2007

by Anna Wu

Banglasdesh mobile If teeny bopping, Supre-toting girls in the city surprise you with their uber-pink phones, (what in the world do they need them for?) you may be more surprised to hear that Bangladesh has added almost 9 million cell phone users in a single year. Yet compared to other countries Bangladesh is just a small player, only ranked 8th among the top 10 Asian cell phone markets.

Being rich or poor as a country isn’t a factor in determining the extensive use of the cell phone. The glory of communication is widely available — data confirms new cell phone customers in Asia are of the middle-to-lower income bracket. But is there a sinister industry behind this fashionable and popular accessory?


Text DumpingCell phones let us phone Mum to tell her we’ll be out for just a bit longer. Your brother might use it to call the AA while stranded on the side of a road somewhere or to break up with his girlfriend via txt. Increasingly mobiles are also being used for saving lives.

India was the first country to introduce a disaster warning cell phone system. In 30 seconds, the general public can be informed about natural disasters such as the Mumbai floods or epidemic outbreaks like cholera, through SMSs and voicemails. Similarly here in NZ, the Western Bay of Plenty have a free service to provide registered users with text alerts of Civil Defense emergencies in the region.

In the wake of the murder of German backpacker Birgit Brauer, Telecom and Vodafone launched the SAFE (7233) txt service for anyone to record their travel plans within NZ. Messages are stored and (hopefully not!) retrieved later by police to find out where the missing person’s supposed to be.

The cell phone has even emerged as a tool for fighting poverty. Last year a senior official of the United Nations World Food Programme in London received a text from a refugee in a drought-plagued camp in Kenya. It was a simple message; people are not receiving enough food “you must help.” You may wonder how someone who does not have access to enough food can afford a cell phone, but in Africa, where many nations lack public telecommunication systems, they are not a luxury but a necessity. They are cheap and are used by traders as the primary communication tool and for millions of others they are the thing that connects them to scattered communities and families. This text message was an effective way of a refugee in Kenya to access someone living in the comfort of the industralised world, where hunger is hard to imagine.


We already know cheap, affordable fast-fashion is to sweatshops what diamonds are to the notorious diamond mines. Similarly while cell phones have revolutionised communication, the materials that create them come at someone else’s expense.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) contains one third of the world’s cassiterite, 64 to 80 percent of the world’s colton, 10 percent of the world’s copper and 20 to 40 percent of the world’s cobalt — all of which form the components of our cell phones. U.K.-based organisation Global Witness documented “killing, rape, torture, arbitrary arrests, intimidation, mutilation” by the Democratic Republic of Congo military and other armed groups “to gain control over either resource-rich areas or the ability to tax resources.” While below ground, according to the BBC, children as young as 8 yrs old “dig and sieve from dawn to dusk” in the Ruashi mine which employs 4000 miners.

AND THE [cell phone] GRAVE

The world now has over 3.5 billion cell phone users* and the environment appears to be paying a high cost.

GorillaColton is a mineral that is used to make tiny devices that store energy in cell phones and is responsible for the phones shrinking size, but endangered animals are paying the price for this pocket-sized convenience. In a DRC national park the mountain gorilla population has plunged by half, after mining of colton devastated the gorilla’s habitat.

The U.S. Geological Survey calculates the 500 million phones lying unused in the US contain 17 million pounds of copper, 6 million ounces of silver, 600,000 ounces of gold. 17 different metals can be reclaimed.

Fortunately as global citizens and responsible consumers, we can reduce some of the impact by choosing what we do with our “dead phones.”


MobileThe first hand held mobile phone to become commercially available was the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X in 1983. It was 25 cms long and weighed over half a kilo!!

MobileIn 2004 Vodafone NZ’s recycling initiative “The Old, The Broke and The Ugly” prevented more than 6780kg of mobile phone equipment going to landfill, that’s 16,826 mobile phones!

MobileIn India the leading mobile service, has launched a new service, which allows customers to make their donations to temples via SMS.

MobileNew Zealand has over 3 million mobile customers who on average replace handsets for a newer, flashier one every 18 to 24 months. (This indicates their are going to be a lot more forsaken Oldies, Brokes and Uglies in the cell phone grave)

In December 2006 people in the UK sent 4 billion texts.


  • Use your old phone! Do you really need a new one?
  • If you really need a new phone, then recycle your old one.
  • - Drop by any Vodafone retail store with your unwanted mobiles and accessories like batteries and chargers. Your phone will go on to become things like traffic cones or copper pipes, or sent to a developing country instead to spread the joy of communication.
    - Organise a mobile recycling week at school, work or anyplace in your community by sending an email to They’ll provide a bin as well as posters and leaflets to let people know all about it.

  • There are miners mining in conditions of virtual slavery in DRC to feed our demand for this technology and ironically mobile phones are being used to threaten those who try to draw attention to this. Visit to read about the Congo appeal and send a letter online to the President telling him you support free speech.


Cell phones for civil engagement (*mobile user stat from this site)
Recycle mobiles in your community
The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Read the full Guardian article “You Must Help”

What’s up with coke? Part two

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

Environmental Destruction in India

Water BottleCoca Cola has bottling plants the world over, allowing the company to take advantage of very low labour and production costs in certain countries, as well as decreasing the bill for the shipping of its products to its customers. One might think this makes the company more environmentally friendly, through reducing emissions caused by the transportation of goods around the world. However there are some who would tell you differently, very differently. These are the people who live on the doorsteps of the Coca Cola bottling plants all over India.

It is an often bemoaned fact that it is in fact cheaper to buy a bottle of sugar filled Coca Cola in New Zealand than it is to buy a bottle of water. Luckily, however, we have the option of turning on the tap and filling our glasses with potable water for very little money. In many Asian and African countries the severe shortage of available, clean, safe drinking water is a huge problem for inhabitants. India is one such country. The Indian village of Plachimada obtain all their drinking water from wells which tap into groundwater around the village. The locals began to notice that they were not the only ones tapping into the groundwater in the area. Coca Cola were also using the ground water, in much vaster quantities than the inhabitants of the area, in the production of their soft drinks.

Fetching WaterVillagers all over India have found themselves in a similar situation, with Coca Cola bottling plants helping themselves to precious life-giving ground water and causing their wells to drop by, in some cases, up to fifty feet (about 15 metres). Lax environmental regulations in the country did nothing to prevent this from occurring. Villagers have been forced to travel large distances in search of adequate drinking water, while the water once readily available to them is now only available in the form of a caffeinated, sugary carbonated drink, bought in planet-polluting plastic bottles.

To add salt to the wound, it has been found that aside from removing drinkable water from these communities, Coca Cola has also been pumping waste water indiscriminately back into the communities, litres and litres of contaminated water flow into the fields and rivers of India, polluting not only the soils, but the small amount of groundwater that remains for the villagers. Areas where this water has been discharged have been signposted by the authorities as water unfit for human consumption, while farmers were sold the solid waste of the Coca Cola factories to use as fertiliser. Tests of the waste found two dangerous substances (cadmium and lead) in the “fertiliser” which mean that in effect it is toxic waste.

The communities of India have thus been hit threefold by the damage Coca Cola has inflicted to their environment through the bottling plants dotted throughout its provinces. The country relies heavily on its agriculture and the devastating mixture of water shortages and polluted soils is having huge repercussions for many of the nation’s poor. However the Indian people are not only being hurt indirectly by the company through the destruction of their farming land, tests of bottled Coca Cola in India have found that the drink contains inordinately high levels of harmful pesticides such as DDT. We all know that Coca Cola isn’t good for us, but the little bit of sugar and caffeine found in the Coca Cola which we drink in New Zealand pales in comparison to the toxic cocktail of chemicals drunk in India. The long-term effects of these chemicals on the human body is as yet unknown, but the cumulative effect of the poisoning of the land along with the poisoning of the body leaves a very undesirable outlook for many of the people of India. And in a country of over one billion souls, that is a lot of unhappy futures.

Coke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottles

What can you do?
Still wanting to enjoy the Coke side of life? If not there are several groups of protestors who have set up websites which you can check out:

And of course there is the option of making the decision not to drink Coca Cola on moral grounds. If everyone does it the company will have to sit up and listen, or face a fate even worse than that they have inflicted on their workers in India and around the world.


Pacific Youth Hold Fast: We can’t ignore colonisation

Friday, August 11th, 2006

Omar Hamed

kanaky t-shirtNgā iwi e, Ngā iwi e
O people, O people
Kia Kotahi ra, Te Moana-nui-a-kiwa
Join together as one the Pacific Ocean.
Ngā iwi e, Ngā iwi e
O people, o people
Kia Kotahi ra, Te Moana-nui-a-kiwa
Join together as one, the Pacific Ocean

Kia mau ra, kia mau ra
Hold fast, hold fast
Ki te mana motuhake me te aroha.
To self-determination and to love.
Kia mau ra, kia mau ra
Hold fast, hold fast
Ki te mana motuhake me te aroha.
To self-determination and to love.

Ngā iwi e. The song of the Pacific. Originally a Kanaky song from New Caledonia, it was translated into Maori in the 1970s and entered New Zealand by way of Greenpeace, who sung it on board the Rainbow Warrior while protesting French nuclear testing at Muroroa in French Polynesia. It is as Pacific as the wide blue ocean in which we all live.

new caledonian sign at PYFOn the last night of the inaugural Pacific Youth Festival held in Tahiti between 17 and 22 July, it was revived as ninety New Caledonians cheered the end of the festival and sung for a new day in the fight for self-determination in the Pacific. They sang for freedom, their banner bearing the words “Delegation of New Caledonia” (a reminder to the festival of their refusal to march under the French flag). The song, echoing in the outdoor stadium as the sun went down over the harbour of Pape’ete, and the warm Pacific wind stirred the Kanaky flags they carried in their hands and wore around their necks.

I was lucky enough to be there in the stadium with them. Part of the 17-person delegation from Aotearoa who had travelled across the ocean to be part of the festival, I had joined with the more than 1000 youth from across the Pacific to discuss the important issues of the region. Sustainable Development. Globalisation. Active citizenship. Peace. Health. Education. Equality. Cultural diversity. Good governance. An array of problems and challenges was presented to us in six days of workshops and conferences designed to educate, empower and engage Pacific youth.

1400 Pacific youth gathered together to share, experience and learn. There were anti-corruption activists from Papua New Guinea, democracy advocates from the Solomon Islands, human rights workers from New Caledonia, sustainable farmers from Tonga, HIV/AIDS educators from the Kiribati Islands, indigenous intellectual property lawyers from Australia, women’s group organisers from Fiji, sports coaches from Vanuatu, community artists from the Norfolk islands and the list goes on. Too many to meet in a week, let alone to list here.

By the time I left Tahiti, the festival had become a backdrop to something much more serious. Behind the dancers on the cultural stage and the palm trees and the workshops and conferences was being played out an event that may well shape the future of French Polynesia’s future. Looking back on it now it seems bizarre, how Charmaine Clark, (Ngati Kahungunu), a researcher from the Tairawhiti Polytechnic in Gisborne and I got caught up in the middle of the struggle for self-determination in Tahiti.
new caledonia sign with flags
It began on Monday morning at the opening ceremony when Oscar Temaru, leader of Tahiti’s biggest independence political party and French Polynesia’s coalition government, asked the festival “to consider the issue of independence and more specifically ‘the freedom of the Maohi [Tahitian] people’”. He also said to the Festival in English, “Do you know that in our local Assembly it is prohibited to speak our language, the language of our land? Here [at the festival] we will speak our mother tongue. This is only one example of the colonial system that still exists in our land. We want to get rid of colonialism, racism and all these wrongs that exist everywhere in the world.” At that point, the French High Commissioner Office’s secretary-general walked out of the festival. The first shot of a new battle in an old war had been fired.

To explain; French Polynesia is an “overseas country” of France. It exists as a sort of autonomous colony, caught in the limbo of a people who want decolonisation and France which is desperate to hold onto its old colonial outposts in the Pacific. France still controls the immigration, foreign affairs and funds much of the social services in French Polynesia, and many in French Polynesia fear that the economy would collapse without French support. However, there is a tension between those who feel that it’s time for the nation to become independent and those who want the islands to remain connected with France. Oscar Temaru is the fiery independence leader who, when asked by a reporter “Most people call this place French Polynesia. What do you call it?” replied, “This is French-occupied Polynesia. That is the truth. This country has been occupied.” He has been involved in the struggle for self-determination for a long time and is an old friend of Jean-Marie Tjibaou, a Kanaky independence fighter assasinated in 1988 by the French and whose son, Pascal, was also attending the festival.
new caledonians on bus
Then, on Monday afternoon, I went with Charmaine, the Aotearoa Junior Delegate’, to watch her and the other Pacific Junior Delegates’ begin drafting the Pacific Youth Charter. It was a shambles. The French Polynesian Junior Delegate’ had appointed himself the chair of the drafting committee and next to him was the delegate from France. Yes, you read correctly: France was part of the festival. Three or four young people from a Paris youth NGO had come to the festival to represent the multimillion-dollar stake that France had in the festival, but it seemed to me, in the Tahitian cultural centre, watching the French delegate dominate proceedings that something was truly wrong for them to be able to put themselves on the drafting committee for the PACIFIC Youth charter.

On Wednesday the plot thickened, when Oscar Temaru invited the delegates for cocktails at parliament. The French and French Polynesian delegates (by the way the French Polynesian delegate seemed to have colonial outposts in his head) strongly argued that the delegates not go to the cocktails because it would cut into the drafting time for the charter. After a vote, which was eleven votes to ten in favour of not going (the deciding vote being the French), Charmaine and five other delegates walked out of the drafting committee, stating that it was rude to ignore an invitation by the President when they had not ignored a invitation the previous night by the French High Commissioner. At the party Charmaine invited Temaru to a forum that she and I had hastily organised the day before and scheduled for Saturday morning. It was to be a forum on “Decolonisation with Justice”, the very topic that Temaru had wanted discussed at the Forum. Although Temaru was to be outside the country, he promised to send his representative.

On Thursday it was voted that the French delegate could not have voting powers in the committee, causing him to walk out stating that it was “disrespectful” for Pacific youth to refuse the old colonial nations a say in their, (our) future. The youth of the Pacific had struck a blow against the empire it seemed. omar and char's decolonisation discussionOn Saturday morning Charmaine and I prepared the hall for the around one hundred youth and interested observers, including two members of the French Polynesian Assembly, who came to discuss colonisation and decolonisation. It turned into a very successful forum and we were able to put colonisation back on the agenda of the festival. Samoans came to talk about their dark past at the hands of colonial New Zealand; Kanaky, Maohi, Cook Islanders, Palauans came to discuss their islands’ experiences; Australians came to vent their frustration that there was only one aboriginal in their delegation, Papua New Guineans remembered their brothers and sisters in West Papua, who the government had warned them not to talk about at the Youth Festival. The pain of the Pacific peoples flowed through the room, the hurt, frustration and anger at last beginning to be discussed in an open way instead of being swept under the rug.

That night Charmaine and I met with the deputy of Temaru’s political party, Jean-Michel Carlson, and his wife to talk about the forum and the way the festival was unfolding. Jean-Michel informed us that the festival was part of a pro-French agenda initiated when Temaru was temporarily out of office after the more pro-French opposition party contested elections. No wonder France was allowed to take part in drafting the charter and why indigenous issues and colonisation were avoided. The whole festival had been initiated as a way of legitimising the French presence in the Pacific.
some of NZ delegation
Regardless of this, the Pacific Youth Festival was an important step forward for addressing issues in the Pacific region and facilitating dialogue between Polynesian, Micronesian, Melanesian and colonial settler cultures. However, I would definitely be critical of aspects of the festival such as the large Pacific Plan delegation, which held workshops on its development program (a plan that most Pacific NGOs say, “ignores the real needs of the region.”see link) Workshops on indigenous cultural protection, disabled peoples rights, gender equality, over fishing and poverty highlighted the inspiring work being undertaken by Pacific youth. Being with Maohi and learning about life in French Polynesia was a real experience. For instance, learning about the new golf course that was being created against local people’s wishes on the island of Mo’orea seemed to be an analogy of the whole Pacific situation with tourism: white people monopolising land and resources so they could indulge in recreation, while being served by a new underclass of workers forced to work in the tourism industry because all other industry is underdeveloped.
omar and friends
By the time I got on the plane home to New Zealand I was feeling much more like a citizen of the Pacific Ocean than ever before. The festival had made me realise how dependant Pacific peoples are on activists and campaigners in the “big brother” nations of Aotearoa and Australia to protest and lobby for increased foreign aid, fair trade rules, action on climate change and protection from the nuclear arms and colonial armies of the world’s superpowers. Whether it’s colonisation in West Papua, nuclear testing in Muroroa, unfair trade rules at the World Trade Organisation or greenhouse gases from the industrial nations, Pacific issues are Aotearoa’s issues and that to ignore our brothers and sisters in the Pacific is to deny the true fact of human existence: the fact that ultimately we’re all in this one together.


Get clued up on West Papua!
Check out these excellent websites on the Pacifics hidden conflict:
AUT journalists are investigating the conflict.
Peace Movement Aotearoa’s Resource Page
Indonesian Human Rights Campaign
Free West Papua!
Information on Papua

Get clued up on the Pacific!
Read the Oceania Indymedia Site
Check out the Pacific Concerns Resource Centre
Check out Dev-Zone’s Resource pages on the Pacific


  • Challenge Stereotypes about Pacific Islanders!
  • Don’t let people make racist comments about Pacific Islanders (or anyone!) challenge the way people perceive each other!

Photos by Elise Broadbent, Hana Solomon and Lyndon Burford.

sunset over moorea

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…

Beyond the petrol pump - peak oil and aotearoa new zealand

Wednesday, November 16th, 2005

Omar Hamed

A friend told me earlier this year that he was buying an expensive new car. One that guzzles petrol like there is no tomorrow. I asked if he was out of his mind. I told him that there is no point buying a gas guzzling car now that the end of cheap oil has come. In a couple of years, I said, he will not even be able to afford the petrol for his new car. Needless to say, he bought the car. But now less than twelve months later he is finding it harder and harder to afford the rapidly increasing petrol prices.

petrol pumpsAlthough the price of petrol is estimated to reach $2.00 a litre by Christmas, and with analysts saying this is just the beginning of the price rises, no one should be surprised with the current situation. Matthew Simmons, an adviser to President George Bush, said earlier this year, “Demand is pulling away from supply…and we have to ask whether we have the resources that we think we do. It could be catastrophic if we do not anticipate when peak oil comes.”

Many of you are probably thinking, “what is peak oil’?” Peak oil is when the amount of oil being extracted reaches its highest point and after that it starts to decline. We will not know when peak oil happens until after it has already occurred. There are conflicting opinions on when peak oil will be reached. Some experts say we have already reached it, while others say it will happen in the coming decade. The fact is that in the next few years oil is going to get increasingly scarce. Oil prices are going to keep rising and with this rise will come a rise in the costs of those things which require oil to be manufactured. This includes everything from clothing to food, and from plastic bags to bicycle tyres.

Peak oil will have a huge effect on our society. Because a major part of our economic system is built around oil, running out in the near future is going to have dramatic effects on the way we live. Oil provides 90% of global transport supply and a reliable flow is needed for New Zealand and most other countries economies to continue growing. Because of New Zealand’s location at the bottom of the world, increased oil prices will make transport to and from these islands increasingly expensive.

The move away from a society based around cheap oil to one based around renewable resources and energy conservation is not simply an option; it is an inevitability. Harnessing solar and wind power as well as increased energy efficiency will reduce the possibilities for blackouts down the line. Long queues at the petrol station can be avoided if there is adequate government funding of public transport and cycle infrastructure. Use of plastic packaging can be cut back on dramatically by businesses. Food processed and transported thousands of kilometres from factory to supermarket will cease to be the norm as oil prices hit consumer spending. In a sure sign of things to come a neighbour told me last night that he had sold his four wheel drive the week before. Why? Because the cost of filling his tank with petrol was now costing well over a hundred dollars. Oil free future, here we come. Ready or not.


Richard Heinberg’s Paper presented on November 7th 2005, at the California Leaders Round Table Dialogue on Peak Oil, Climate Change and Business Action; , 2005 in San Francisco.

Banking with minutes

Monday, November 14th, 2005

Omar Hamedclock

A young minor offender being sentenced by his peers, an American insurance company being paid for in time, a peer tutoring system that rewards students with recycled computers and Glasgow residents paying for tarot card readings by doing gardening. Four very different applications of one simple idea. Time as currency.

Across 12 countries, over 500 Time Banks are working towards what many see as the “Third Economy”. From Ghana to Japan there are now community organisations structured not around money but around time. It’s not charity, it’s community; it does not value dollars, it values time. Time Banks trade hours of voluntary work, work done for the community and for individuals. It does not create an economy, it creates a society.

It works simply, you give up one hour of your time to voluntary work and you gain one time dollar. You can spend that tax free dollar on local services and other people’s time volunteered by other participating individuals and organisations. And it does not matter if you are a corporate lawyer doing community legal work or a sixteen year old tutoring your neighbour’s children, everyone’s hour is worth the same. A computer system calculates how many time dollars you have and sends you an account based on your earnings and spending.

In London you can spend that time dollar on drama classes or gaining IT skills. There are no longer recipients of charity or what the creator of this system, American Civil Rights Lawyer, Edgar Cahn, calls “the throw away people”.

Time Banks are based on four principles; Assets, that every human being is one, Redefining Work, no more taking women’s, children’s, or volunteers’ work for granted, Reciprocity, replacing one way acts with two way ones, and Social Capital, what British PM Tony Blair calls the “magic ingredient”, the work done that benefits the community and through ongoing investments of which we can turn social breakdown into social cohesion.

Surprisingly, Time Banks have been incredibly successful. In London alone there are 31 Time Banks that have clocked up over 28 000 hours in voluntary work. In Chicago refurbished computers were given out to 4800 students, in up to 50 problem schools, who did one hundred hours of peer tutoring and whose parents also did eight hours of community work. Academic results went up, bullying went down.

The crime ridden and notoriously poverty stricken housing development Benning Terrace in Washington DC now clocks up enough hours to buy four tons of food per month at the local food bank.

Law firm Holland and Knight billed the Shaw community in Washington for $230 000 in time dollars after they closed crack houses, made frozen government money available for a local playground, cleaned up local police corruption and kept the neighbourhood school open. The community repaid this by helping with the local clean up, school tutoring, a night escort service for elderly and by phoning in license plate numbers of drug dealers’ cars.

The benefit to the community does not end with the deed. With each payment and repayment bonds within the community strengthen and those people who have been told that they have no value; the unemployed, immigrants, the young and the elderly discover that they can in fact be an asset to the community. One participant of the scheme said it was “impossible not to make friends”.

In the UK, participation in Time Banks by those earning less than ’£10 000 is double that of the same demographic group participating in traditional volunteer work. Time Banks are redefining the responsible democratic citizen. A Californian law firm receives payment for legal advice by clients turning up to demonstrate outside the workplaces of bad employers.

Time as money schemes have the potential to revitalise the public sector by turning it from resource-stretched to resource-rich. With the expansion of the Time Bank scheme long waiting lists of mental health patients will be a thing of the past.

British doctors are already referring patients with long term depression to local Time Banks. What about New Zealand’s over stretched parole service and high rates of reoffending? In San Diego ex-prisoners pay for aftercare services in time dollars earned by being part of a support group.

In Washington D.C. volunteer youth jurors on a special Youth Court jury are paid in time dollars for their work. The youth offenders go before the court and are given community service sentences, Lifeskills training, they must make an apology to the victims and become a youth juror themselves.

The Youth Court is helping break down the cycle of reoffending which many justice systems encourage. In this way youth suddenly become responsible for participating in their community and finding alternatives to crime. One youth who was sentenced at the Youth Court later became a volunteer juror, helping other youth like himself.

What of Auckland’s growing traffic problem caused by low rates of public transport use? Plans have already been made in London for a “Tutor Commuter” program. You will be able to learn French on the Underground or teach English to new immigrants on the bus on your way to work.

In the 21st century Time Banks will have their day. Cahn’s goal, “To create a society where decency and caring are rewarded automatically” is becoming a reality in London, Washington and many other cities. How long before New Zealand joins this global movement? It is only a matter of time.


Time Dollar USA

Time Banks UK

Consumption and the Environment

Thursday, April 29th, 2004

Kate Thompson

We don’t need to shop every weekend for the new it’ product — but we do. What drives us to consume?

Consume: v. destroy, use up, eat or drink; waste away; be exhausted.

From the beginning of time people have used the environment for materials, energy and food.
But now we’ve become a consumer society, buying without need and over-consuming without a purpose.

And in this age of disposables and throwaways, consumer nations like ours have the biggest impact on the environment. An average person in a developed country produces 20 times more pollutants than an average person from a poorer country.

Consumers are not born — they’re made. We are constantly bombarded with advertising specifically designed to influence our choices.

Most advertisers use techniques learnt from psychology, sociology and economics to shape their markets. We’re no longer being informed about products, we’re being persuaded to buy them.

Mass media generation

Young people who grow up watching TV are most likely to be affected by advertising.

In Britain, the average eight-year old is more likely to recognise a Pokemon character than a real plant or animal.

The average American ten-year old knows 300-400 brands!

New Zealand is one of the most advertising-saturated countries in the world. Just look at how fixated we are with brands and labels. We know which ones are a must, and which ones we wouldn’t be caught dead in.

Advertising creates wants and then transforms them into needs!


SHOP WISELY: Support companies that are enviro-friendly, buy goods with the least amount of packaging and always ask yourself, Do I really need it? What makes me want to buy it?’ Make your own stuff!

RAISE AWARENESS: Talk to your mates or whanau about environmental issues. Organise an awareness-raising event or campaign — maybe a concert, public talk or demonstration.

JOIN OTHERS: Volunteer with organisations like Greenpeace, or join a global network of concerned and active young people

GO FOR IT! Learn more about the issues, and realise that you can do plenty. Every little bit helps!

This article was written as part of the Global Focus a collaborative project of Tearaway Magazine and the Global Education Centre. It was first published in Tearaway magazine and is reprinted here with their permission

Illustrator: Gavin Mouldey