Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Palestine - Walking for Peace


I went to Palestine not knowing what to expect and not particularly believing that peace could be achieved by the simple act of walking as proposed by William Ury (William Ury@ TED) the founder of the Abraham's Path Initiative (
I joined API on their exploratory walk of the West Bank of Palestine in late February. My job was to walk the path and document the journey through photographs. API's goal is to facilitate an experience of the other side of the Middle East. They believe that the simple act of walking and experiencing a community and its people first hand will connect people powerfully, and reinstate a belief in a shared humanity.
Our small group of 8 international people walked, ate, and stayed with the locals throughout our trip. We experienced their wonderful hospitality while on our 140 mile walk from Nablus to Hebron.

Although I was there as an observer it was difficult not to become affected by the politics and the humanitarian issues I saw being played out all around me.   Long 8-10 hours days of walking in intense heat with limited food gave me lots of time to ponder 'things', one being my reason for being here.  As an agnostic I struggled to understand where I stood in the balance between all the opposing yet intensely genuine opinions being thrown at me day to day, village after village. What did this land, the heart of the world's 3 major religions and a place of intense modern conflict have to do with my life experience? What wisdom could I offer?  What did I really believe and where were the answers to be found?

5 days into my walk climbing out of the Jordan valley up to the Jerusalem Plateau it dawned on me that I was not here to find answers but to let go of what I thought my/the story was. What was I holding on to so tightly it prevented me from moving forward in my life? The very things in life you think are not negotiable actually are or so I realized as I trudged up the 'Valley of Death' in the hot sun with my soul bared and my ego in shreds.  I was in was a strange and very different place internally and externally.
This is what being on a pilgrimage is I began to understand. This is where the contemplation of the meaning and the realization of how to get to peace begins, within and without.
Here are the pictures that don't do justice to the experience but in the end I came away believing that YES, peace can be achieved simply by walking.

Read more about our journey at: Wend Magazine: Path of the Patriarchs
and Bark Magazine: Dogless in the Desert
Photos by Claudia Chang and writing by Jayme Moye

Kenya - Gentle Tourism?

Traveling to various destinations around the world I would convince myself that my traveler's footprint was relatively minor (Not including my flight) especially when I considered my low budget modus operandi. What has become clear is my naivete regarding the level of my impact. There are so many ways our impact as travelers is not measured or even recognized.

I now refer to my trips by the total number of plastic water bottles I used while there. My trip to India was a 112 liter plastic bottle journey. I was there for 28 days and used an average of 4 liter sized water bottles a day. (Water Bottle Usage Worldwide)

Getting access to clean water is a major issue for everyone. In Kenya I resigned myself to the daily rising count of plastic water bottles. It was distressing to be handed several pint size bottles of water every hour. Half way through my 2 week trip the count was up as high as 42 pint sized plastic water bottles. What was the alternative? Did one exist here in Kenya?

With this rising bottle count constantly on my mind I journeyed to Sasaab Lodge in Samburu in north central Kenya. The hosts Ali and Tony greeted us with a cool cloth to wash the red dirt off our tired hot faces and then handed each of us a steel water bottle filled with filtered water. I cringed at accumulating yet another useless item most likely manufactured in China. My dismissive thoughts almost made me miss what our host said next.

Sasaab gets all their drinking water from several large 18 liter recyclable water containers. Since they introduced the recyclable containers a year or so ago, they have gone from using approximately 200 500ml and 100 1 liter plastic water bottles a month to having no plastic water bottle waste at all. This fact is so important because much of the country in rural Kenya has no infrastructure to support the waste generated by travelers or their supporting lodges. Much of this waste must be trucked out or buried somewhere in the environment.

This beautiful lodge situated on the hillside above the Ewaso Nyiro river remains fixed in my mind as a special place not so much because of its location but because of the solutions it has created to the serious environmental issue of plastic water bottle usage.

Read more about our adventures in Kenya at: Wend magazine: Warrior Blood

Photos by Claudia Chang and Christina Erb.

Friday, September 24, 2010

TransFair USA Eyes a Brand Makeover...Why?

As I continue to investigate the workings of Fair Trade some interesting facts are coming to light. This explains the mumbled comments, and reluctance to say much or the sighs of perseverance I've encounter with those caught up in industries relying on these certifications.

Matt at Just Coffee Cooperatives writes:

"This situation has been developing slowly over many years, so we should ask: “why is it finally coming to a head now?” The answer to this seems to lie in the rise of the IMO “Fair for Life” certification that many committed FT roasters (and growers) are turning to as an alternative to the FLO/Transfair system. To put it plainly-- the IMO certification is reportedly cheaper, based on auditing as opposed to marketing, and less cumbersome than FLO/TFUSA's version. And more, by using the term “Certified Fair Trade” in its language, the IMO program is liberating a term that has been monopolized legally in the US by TFUSA for years. In the past, the more committed “fair traders” had nowhere to go outside the TFUSA model for third-party certification-- they were the only game in town. There now appears to be a better alternative and that development must make TFUSA very nervous."

Read the full article by Just Coffee Cooperative at:

Fair trade certification delayed is fair trade denied.

The more I search the more complex things become. Here's a great article on Fair Trade and the shifting tides of change that occur as organizations slip with regard to their values. It may take a little time but eventually we notice...

From the Huffington Post:

The Organic Consumers Association has launched the Fair World Project to promote fair trade in commerce, especially in organic production systems in developing countries as well as at home, and to protect the term "fair trade" from dilution and misuse for mere PR purposes. This new organization fills the critical need for a watchdog of misleading fair trade claims, and a cheerleader for dedicated fair trade mission-driven companies. The Fair World Project will focus on promoting projects that connect the environmental and health benefits of organic agriculture with the social benefits derived from fair trade.

The article below is featured both on the Fair World Project website as well as in the inaugural publication of "For a Better World." The website provides a space and forum where consumers and activists can discuss issues within the Fair Trade movement, ask tough questions and share information. Please check it out here.

Going Fair Trade: The Challenges of Setting Up Sustainable and Fair Supply Chains and Getting Them Certified

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Context and Complexity

"Imagination is far more important than knowledge."

"The formulation of a problem is far more important than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, to look at old problems from a new angle marks the real advances in science." - Albert Einstein

I was thinking that all this talk and attention about sustainability is great but ultimately the aesthetics of consumption is the issue. How to help the consumers of the world develop an identity outside of things? with millions still in poverty and the grossly wealthy lifestyle idealized?
These are the social processes identified as lifestyle consumption, expressive consumption, aesthetic consumption that require the solutions. Creating solutions as alternatives for these processes will turn sustainability into a real and worthy goal, not allow it remain where it is now as a Utopian ideology.

read more:
Design, Lifestyles and Sustainability.
by Peter Dobers and Lars Strannegard

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Conference on Climate Change, Unchanged

As the old year fades into the archives things remain unchanged despite many hopes to the contrary. I refer not only to US politics, economics, health care, and trade policies but the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change.

Here's a unique perspective from Indonesian activist and journalist Fitrian Ardiansyah:
The Jakarta Post: New Year, new climate (re)solutions.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

So Fair Trade or Fair Trader?

I've been working on a project investigating organic fair trade coffee, tracing the bean from the growers through the various intermediary steps terminating with the consumer. Its been a long and complex route with new facts learned at every step. With each bean of knowledge I gain the complexity grows.

The question that kept arising was "What is Fair Trade and what does it really signify?"

Today I spent the afternoon talking with Mark of Conscious Coffee who helped answer these questions. A local roaster with over 12 years in the industry, Mark is on his way to Aceh, Sumatra to visit some of the same coffee growers we met this past summer. We thought it might be good to share our experience and get his take on the confusion behind the fair trade label.

So why are there so many fair trade labels and products out there and what is the difference?

Fair Trade is a certification that provides rules regarding pesticide use, workers treatment..etc that growers must meet in order to get the Fair Trade label. Much of the coffee Mark at Conscious Coffee buys comes from cooperatives who have invested their time and energy into creating a high quality coffee bean for the specialty coffee market that includes conforming to the regulations for fair trade and organic certifications.

They are the Fair Traders.

Conscious coffee and other roasters like it make a conscious decision to invest in these communities not because they have the best tasting bean or because they offer the best priced fair trade organic coffee. They invest in these communities because these cooperatives are making a long term commitment to produce high quality coffee that will help to support their community and improve their lifestyle. This intention is important to both sides of the conscious coffee market. Fair traders want to help facilitate this process. Its not "Profit Over People" coined by Noam Chomsky, but profit working for people.

On the consumer side of this relationship the connection from the cup of coffee they buy to the grower becomes transparent. They can trace that cup of coffee directly from the region of the world where the coffee was grown, to the cooperative, and often down to the farmer and village who grew the beans.

The gist of this is that by consciously choosing to buy traceable beans you invest not just in yourself and your immediate pleasure, but in the future of these people and communities laboring to provide these products for your consumption. (Yes, this is a simplistic way to look at it because the issues surrounding coffee growers is so complex and transcends political as well as socioeconomic concerns, but this is also an important way to understand these relationships between our consumption and their production).

A Fair Trader is a person or business who's idea of success is wrapped up in the success and sustainability of those communities that produce the products they sell.
Other retailers offer Fair Trade coffee but they are simply outlets for marketing this product without a connection to the source. The money they make never makes it back to the origin or growers because there is no partnership involved. These large retailers don't know their growers, the regions or the concerns of the coffee growers. The growers have no voice.

Fair Traders like Conscious Coffee considers the producers and communities as integral parts of their business and are invested in improving not only their lives but the lives of the farmers as well.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Fish is Gone: Technology Paradox Killed it.

My fish died today.
He was just a goldfish I won at a fair, oh about 10 years ago. So I suppose he was old and it was time but I blame his death on the technology paradox.

Technology simplifies life by providing choices and functions not otherwise offered, yet that very simplicity requires a increase of operations and capabilities that often are too complex to control, requiring innovative and equally complex design to translate it's functionality.

In short, somewhere I must have misread instructions, misinterpreted directions or become confused about the affordance, constraints, and mapping of the care required for my goldfish and it's habitat.
I gave it food, although maybe too much food at times. Then I wasn't sure just exactly how much chemical I was supposed to add to the water to de-chlorinate it. As for the algae, how much was too much?

Come to think of it, there are dozens of things, technological things that produce background static and stress in my life for the basic reason they are not simple enough to understand and operate.
My digital watch/timer, my DVD player clock display, my alarm clock, my new touch screen cell phone, the menu table of my digital camera, my name a few.

I tend to use these objects only in a few prescribed ways that I, through trail and error and through reading the manual, have been able to mentally map. It's like learning a new language each time. I look for ways to naturally map these objects' functions based on how I intuitively work. Most often this mapping is not natural but based on my previous experience with the earlier generations of these products.

Occasionally a product comes along that requires no heavy sighing (the price I pay for being technologically up to date). For example, the i Pod is a quick study, easily mapped mentally because the functions mimic natural behavior. Not only that, it creates an enjoyable interface that encourages use because it is fun. I'm referring to the navigation wheel. I love the way it turns in a circle, the sound it makes and the simple tree structure of the database.

When faced with the ever expanding number of new technologies, I feel an affinity with De Cervantes' Don Quixote and Thoreau's Walden. I want to hide in the wilderness or attack these modern windmills but technology is not the over bearing all consuming monster that is taking over our lives. It provides me great advantages and comfort. The design and implementation of that technology is what pushes me to consider a more simple life, where my time is not consumed by bad design. Choices and varieties have become a burden in ways I never dreamed of.

I often wonder as technology progressed throughout the ages, was there such an abundance of things and choices that advancement was hamstrung like in this more modern era? Did the blacksmiths in the Middle Ages continue to use tools that were difficult to operate or inadequate for the job? Or were these badly designed objects quickly tossed aside in favor of more efficient better designed tools? I think the consequences of bad design was more immediate back then, seen in outcomes of wars or survival over harsh winters.

Nowadays our technology acts as a buffer preventing us from leaping over design disasters immediately into more workable designs. We must continually muddle through because the consequences are not clear. If my current MP3 player interface is difficult to navigate, I will still manage to survive the winter. I can build my Taj Mahal and no one will wonder why. This is the second level of the technology paradox. Like a tornado it spins within itself creating more things that take more time that create more need for things.

Give me sleek, well designed, naturally mapped objects and I will consider dismounting my horse and abandoning my spear to embrace the modern world once more. As we move away from the obsession with technology like a child in a candy store wanting everything all at once, I think we can transition into a world where the important choices are around time and not things.

Good, thoughtful design plays an important role.

To read more on this subject:

Donald Norman writes about "The Design of Everyday Things"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sumatra or Bust

For the next month we will be in Sumatra Indonesia touring coffee plantations, exporter warehouses and various other locals to trace the developed world consumption of coffee back to the producers. Here we will explore the similarities of our challenges and hopes, the diversity of values and expectations. This project is an extension of the concept of Reproduction over Production. How does this idea fare in the face of some tight economic and social realities?

For the full story as it unfolds check out our blog:
Sumatra or Bust

Friday, May 29, 2009

Coffee, Cinnamon, Paper and Orangutans, what do they all have in common?

Reproduction over it only a dream?
What does this mean?

This is where a society produces only as much product, uses only as many resources as can be reproduced or renewed readily.
Our current capitalist economic system has been borrowing from the future for centuries. We've cut down our old growth forests, sterilized our soil, polluted our oceans and air, all in the name of profit. Money.
Nothing wrong with that as long as these resources last. They are our natural capital and need to be accessible on some level for profit. This has always worked because our world population was relatively small and the level of our resource usage has never been greater than the ability of the Earth to renew itself.
Not anymore.
The current economic model will lead to our destruction unless the paradigm shifts.

This is an interesting time to be alive. It is on par with the shift
during the 15 century that occurred in the scientific world with the help of Francis Bacon. He created a methodology, the scientific method, that pioneered a inductive way of thinking. It changed the way people thought, the fundamental way they looked at things. it ushered in the scientific era.

Our wealth in the developed world insulates most of us from the hard edges of this type of change.
We don't see first hand the dwindling limits of the world's resources.
We don't experience first hand the consequences.
We can't really relate to the reality of this process because our societal systems support and protect most of us.

I'm on my way to Sumatra, Indonesia to visit coffee cooperative, Orangutan infested rain forest, illegal Palm Oil plantations, and cinnamon orchards popping up inside preserve boundaries.
I want to look at the edges of this change and see first hand the issues, complexity and the people. How
are the people coping? What are their needs and how might I, as a great consumer, help them? Can we in the developed world shift our habits enough to include these people in our greater vision of a sustainable, reproductively rich world?