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Latest news from Greenpeace
letzte Aktualisierung: 17.01.2017 13:00:04
  • Revealed: HSBC is funding forest destruction

    Today we’ve let the cat out of the bag that HSBC - one of the biggest banks in the world - is funding destructive palm oil companies. Now its customers are waking up to the news that the bank card in their pocket is linked to the destruction of already-endangered forests.

    Orangutans at BOS Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rescue Center in Indonesia

    This secretly filmed footage shows bulldozers from the Salim palm oil group - a firm that borrowed millions of pounds from HSBC - destroying Indonesia’s rainforests. Take a look and see for yourself. 


    This isn’t about one palm oil company though - HSBC funds multiple shady palm oil companies. Most of us will never have heard of these faceless palm oil predators - but they’re notorious in their industry for trashing rainforests, so HSBC knows exactly what it’s doing.

    In April 2016, an influential environmental group released a briefing stating that if HSBC loaned money to a forest-trashing company called Noble Group it would be breaching its own sustainability promises. Yet HSBC signed a deal with Noble just a few weeks later that flagrantly  ignored the evidence.

    For a bank that proclaims that sustainability underpins our strategic priorities and enables us to fulfil our purpose”, funding companies like Noble is a strange move!

    The kind of forest destruction you see in this secretly filmed footage is creating a crisis for both people and planet, thanks to funders like HSBC.

    An aerial view of a burnt peatland forest in Ketapang district, West Kalimantan.

    Fires exacerbated by forest destruction are pumping a toxic haze from schools to streets to homes in South East Asia. This haze is linked to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths.

    The forest fires are fueling climate change too - the daily CO2 emissions produced by the fires in 2015 sometimes exceeded the daily emissions for the whole USA.

    For many years, there have also been social conflicts between Noble's plantation companies and indigenous communities. Groups have accused Noble of exploiting and deceiving them to gain access to their land.

    To make matters worse the Bornean orangutan was recently classified as critically endangered and habitat destruction is one of the biggest reasons for this. The video we released today reveals how palm oil companies funded by HSBC help destroy orangutans’ precious homes and push these creatures closer to extinction.

    Orangutan in Lone Tree in West KalimantanFor people, planet and primates, HSBC must stop funding palm oil groups like Salim and Noble. We know we can do it because we've done it before. In 2015, Greenpeace supporters forced Spanish banking giant Santander to stop funding a paper company that was clearing rainforest in Indonesia.

    HSBC’s website says “Considering sustainability when we make decisions helps us to protect our reputation” - let’s show HSBC how correct this statement is! The more eyes HSBC feel on them as this scandal is revealed, the more they’ll feel their advertising cash could all be going to waste. If thousands of us make our voices heard, we can make sure they clean up their act.

    Please sign the petition telling HSBC to stop funding forest destruction.

    Annisa Rahmawati, Senior Forest Campaigner, Greenpeace Southeast Asia


  • Seeing is believing: Growing food for people, with people and with nature in Cuba

    “Ojos hacen fe.” Those are the words of Lucy Martín, an inspiring Cuban researcher with Oxfam in Havana. She has lived through decades of change in Cuba, while remaining grounded in the reality of farmers there.

    Finca Marta farm in Cuba, 14 Nov, 2016,  © Alonso Crespo / Greenpeace

    She uses those words – “seeing is believing” in English – to explain the importance of tangible examples that show how transforming our food system is possible. In Cuba, despite scarcity and a system where many challenges still remain, the country has been successfully innovating in ecological farming since the early ‘90s.

    Cuba’s agricultural transformation

    Cuba is a small country of about 11 million people. In the 1990s, the end of Soviet support brought, among other things, a massive exodus from the countryside into cities. Nowadays, almost 80% of the Cuban population lives in cities. Only 20% remains in rural farming settings.

    During the years that followed the end of Soviet support in the ‘90s  – a time called the “Special Period” in Cuba – agriculture changed abruptly. It went from an industrialised model heavily backed by agro-inputs and imports of food, to a void. No exports of commodities, no imports of inputs, no cash… and much less food. This time of great shock and desperation for all Cubans was also a time of empty soils, empty farms and empty plates in the countryside.

    Farmers everywhere, not just in Cuba, are very innovative and resilient people. They are familiar with crises (droughts, floods, pests), but they also have an amazing drive for not giving up and trying new things. And the Cuban Special Period brought to the country a unique change in agriculture and farming – a new ‘agroecological crisis response.’


    Growing food for people, not just commodities for exports, became one big priority for the country. This also meant growing food for people and without the overuse of agrotoxics and water, using knowledge of nature, soils, seeds and pests to substitute chemicals with local-sourced solutions, and applying ecological intelligence.

    Cuba has 2% of the Latin American population, but 11% of its scientists. Back in the ‘90s, they used this vast resource in capacity to start transferring research and development to where it was most needed: agroecology, or how to grow food for people, with people and with nature.

    Farming and food in Cuba today

    In the two decades since the Special Period the country has made significant progress. 

    According the UN World Food Program, in the last 50 years Cuba has largely eradicated poverty and hunger, thanks to comprehensive social protection programmes. It also ranked 67th out of 188 countries in Human Development and is among the most successful in achieving UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

    Today, Cuba has more than 30 research and development centers dedicated to finding solutions for smallholding farmers, and a battery of policy incentives to promote ecological farming, family farming, farming cooperatives and urban farming based on agroecology.

    Currently Cuban farmers, both in cities and rural areas, produce close to 80% of the vegetables and fruits the country consumes. In addition, the number of farmer cooperatives increased from 15% of the cultivated land in 1989 to more than 70% today, and they produce about 70% of the food grown nationally (86% of the maize and beans grown, and 90% of the vegetables).[1] The country also reduced its consumption of agrochemicals by 75% in the last 20 years.[2]

    In cities, urban farmers supply about 50% of the vegetables and fruits consumed locally, a share that continues to increase in recent years. The program of Urban Farming is one of the seven most important programs prioritised by the Minister of Agriculture. It has created about 300,000 jobs in cities, with 50% of those going to women and the urban youth.

    A way forward

    In spite of all these signs of progress, many problems remain for agriculture and beyond. Cuba still imports close to 70% of the food the country needs, mostly grains and livestock products, representing 14% of total imports into the country and close to two billion US dollars per year. However, it has also been estimated that by avoiding the imports seeds and agrochemicals, the country is savings an estimated amount of US$ 50 million a year.[3]

    The Indio Hatuey Experimental Station explores agroecological production models aimed at guaranteeing human well-being, and improving the ecosystems of the Cuban agrarian sector. © Alonso Crespo / Greenpeace

    Fernando Funes Aguilar, an internationally-known Cuban researcher in agroecology, has estimated that Cuba could be food self-sufficient in three years by transforming half of the cultivated land in the country (three million hectares) to intensive, smallholder agroecological systems. This optimistic projection is based on the fact that in 2006, smallholding farmers produced 65% of the food produced in Cuba by cultivating only 25% of its agriculture land.

    Cuban experience in agroecological farming is not a perfect situation, nor is it a perfect system, but it shows a way forward in times of crisis, and a better, more resilient way of feeding people for the future. Seeing the case of Cuban agroecology is believing a better system is not only possible, but happening already.


    [1] Martin, Lucy. 2015. Cuba crece. La Agricultura campesina sostenible. El caso cubano. Oxfam. La Habana Cuba, Julio 2015.

    [2] Funes Aguilar and Vázquez Moreno. 2016. Avances de la Agroecología en Cuba. Estación Experimental de Pastos y Forrajes India Hatuey (Ed), La Habana, Cuba.

    [3] Íbidem.

    Reyes Tirado is Food and agriculture researcher at Greenpeace Research Laboratory at the University of Exeter, UK.

  • How green are the apps you use every day?

    Did you know some of the apps we use every day can make a difference in driving a green future by choosing to power their data centres (and our digital lives) with renewable energy? 

    The Renewable Revolution is here and some of the most innovative tech leaders are embracing green energy, but there are many who still rely on coal and other sources of dirty energy contributing to climate change.

    From Facebook to Netflix, here’s a list of renewable energy champions, others that are improving, and laggards still stuck on dirty energy like coal.

    Leading the race:

    Facebook (Grade: A)

    Since we all convinced Facebook to Unlike Coal in 2011 this tech giant has been pushing the renewable energy agenda and ensuring our likes and shares are greener than ever!

    Activists showing Facebook signs used in the campaign against Facebook's use of coal. 13 Apr, 2011  © Peter Soerensen / Greenpeace

    Google (Grade: A)

    The king of the search engines was the first internet company to sign a major deal for renewable energy back in 2010 and has been making impressive progress toward its 100% renewable commitment!

    WhatsApp (Grade: A)

    Since falling under social media titan Facebook’s ownership since 2014, this popular messaging service has joined the effort to build a renewably powered internet. The 30 billion WhatsApp messages sent every day are driving toward a renewably powered future.

    iTunes (Grade: A)

    As long as there's music, there's hope! Apple’s has been one of the most aggressive companies in making its corner of the internet green, which means that when you download a song from iTunes, Apple has lined up renewable energy to make your music renewably powered.

    YouTube (Grade: A)

    In 2015, video streaming accounted for 63% of global internet traffic, making streaming one of the largest categories in terms of energy consumption. By 2020, streaming is expected to increase to 80%. This will take a lot of energy! 


    Etsy (Grade: B)

    Etsy has taken some big steps to shift its online marketplace toward cleaner sources of energy and has already switched part of its digital operations to a renewably powered data centre. It has started to find its voice in demanding utilities and government leaders do more to accelerate our switch to renewables.

    LinkedIn (Grade: B)

    Is your job search increasing your carbon footprint? LinkedIn was a C student when we last evaluated the company in 2015. Since then, it has embraced a commitment to be 100% renewably powered and has been pushing both its data centre operators and utilities to provide it with more renewable energy.

    Still, it is currently coming in at just 10% renewably powered. LinkedIn needs to keep the advocacy pressure up and put together a plan to make its operations entirely powered by renewable energy. We shouldn't accept any less from a company that has revolutionized the job search.

    Skype (Grade: B)

    Staying in contact with family and friends all over the world? Check! But are your calls renewably powered? Skype is an app developed by Microsoft which, like LinkedIn, had previously been a C student. However, it has started to take steps toward catching up with competitors Apple and Google in the race to build a renewably powered internet.

    Airship Flight over Facebook in Silicon Valley. Apple, Facebook and Google have committed to powering their data centers with renewable energy, and Greenpeace is challenging other tech companies (Amazon, Twitter, Netflix and Pinterest) to join them. 3 Apr, 2014  © George Nikitin / Greenpeace

    On the other hand…

    Twitter (Grade: F)

    While Twitter has become a platform for certain well-known climate deniers, 140 characters from even the most infamous tweeters could be renewably powered if Twitter would follow Facebook, Google, Apple and other IT leaders.

    Amazon Prime (Grade: C)

    While Amazon Web Services (AWS), which powers Amazon Prime Music and Video, has committed to a long-term target of being 100% renewably powered and has recently signed several large deals for renewable energy, it is still impossible for its customers to measure any progress made. The company keeps silent about its energy consumption and carbon emissions. Greenpeace’s own analysis shows AWS continues to rapidly expand in areas primarily powered by coal and other dirty energy sources, not renewables.

    Alibaba (Grade: D)

    The world’s online commerce platform has smashed many records when it comes to global sales, but these are still fueled by coal! To date there is no publicly available evidence on the company’s efforts to promote renewable energy. Alibaba CEO Jack Ma is often regarded as an internet visionary who has expressed his concerns on climate change– so what is Alibaba waiting for to make our shopping greener? 

    Netflix (Grade: D)

    Netflix has truly changed how we watch TV, but unfortunately it isn’t quite so forward thinking when it comes to how it powers our streaming. While a bunch of truly innovative tech leaders like Google, Apple and Facebook are using clean energy to power our apps and platforms, Netflix is still stuck on dirty old energies like coal. 

    Thousands of TV lovers around the world are now asking Netflix to follow in the footsteps of other innovative tech companies by dropping coal and powering our favourite series and films with renewable energy.

    Sign the petition to convince Netflix to go green and make a commitment to 100% renewable energy!

    All company scores are derived from and explained in Greenpeace’s 2017 Clicking Clean report, available here:

    Gary Cook is a Senior IT Campaigner at Greenpeace USA

  • Neonicotinoids: A serious threat for flower-hopping life-bringers and many more animals

    At this point most people know about neonicotinoids and the serious risk they pose to honey bees. Bees are a link in a chain of biodiversity and pollination of incredible value to our food production. Up to 75% of our crops directly or indirectly depend on pollination. We need to start protecting our pollinators against the threat pesticides like neonicotinoids pose. In 2013 scientific findings in Europe lead to a partial ban of four of the worst bee-harming pesticides (clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and fipronil) – at least when they are used on crops which are attractive to honey bees.

    Neonicotinoids: a risk to bees and other animals. 09/01/2017 © Neonicotinoids: a risk for bees and other animals

    Hundreds of new studies show threat more serious than thought

    Since 2013 research on the impacts of neonicotinoid pesticides has continued. Greenpeace France asked one of the leading institutes in this field, the Sussex University, to review all new science. Two independent scientists analysed hundreds of studies and pulled together a new report. The report paints an even more worrying picture. It reveals that neonicotinoids are not only a serious threat to honey bees, but also for a broad range of other animals, including bumble bees, butterflies, birds and even water insects.

    Bumblebee pollinating an Echinacea plant in Germany. 29/07/2013  © Axel Kirchhof / GreenpeaceBumblebee pollinating an Echinacea plant in Germany.

    Industrial agriculture: a threat to wildlife and environment

    Some wild bumble bees are already in decline and becoming extinct. Neonicotinoids can be found in the plants of neighboring agricultural fields and in a wide range of different waterways, including ditches, puddles, ponds, mountain streams, rivers, temporary wetlands, snowmelt, groundwater and in the outflow from water processing plants. The data available for other species paint a similarly worrisome picture. Many farmland butterflies, beetles and insect-eating birds, such as house sparrows and partridges, come in contact with pesticides either directly or through the food chain. Water insects can get exposed to neonicotinoids through its leaching from agricultural soils, from sowing and spraying machines and from water systems in greenhouses. These toxic substances are in our environment, not just in agricultural fields.  

    A combine harvester processing a field of wheat in France. 10/08/2013 © Emile Loreaux / GreenpeaceA combine harvester processing a field of wheat in France.

    Let’s break the cycle of pesticide dependency

    The decline of our pollinators is a symptom of a failing industrial agriculture system which drives biodiversity loss, destroys foraging habitats and relies on toxic chemicals. Pollinators are routinely exposed to insecticides, herbicides and fungicide. If we’re going to take the protection of our pollinators seriously, we must fully ban bee-harming pesticides, starting with the three neonicotinoids.

    To break our dependency on synthetic chemical pesticides we also have to move towards ecological alternatives.

    Butterflies enjoy flowers in an ecological wheat field near Valence, France. 12/06/2015 © Peter Caton / GreenpeaceButterflies enjoy flowers in an ecological wheat field near Valence, France.

    Ecological farming protects our pollinators

    Ecological farming maintains biodiversity without any chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilisers. It also increases the overall resilience of our ecosystems. Many European farmers are willing to change their agricultural practices, but are dependent on pesticides and fertilisers and stuck in this system. 

    Politicians must help farmers switch to ecological methods. They must eliminate the most environmentally harmful subsidies and shift public spending to research and solid rural development projects which include ecological farming. We have a long way to go, but it’s the only way to protect our birds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators.

    Anne Valette is the Project lead of European ecological farming project at Greenpeace France 

  • Nominating the CEO of Exxon for US Secretary of State reveals just how desperate the fossil fuel industry is

    On the surface, this looks like a power grab. In reality, it’s a last ditch attempt at relevancy.

    ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson testifies before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment during a hearing on Capitol Hill. 17 Jun, 2010   © Mannie Garcia / Greenpeace 

    In December, President-elect of the United States Donald Trump officially nominated Exxon Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State. In response, everyone from preschool teachers to oil industry shill (and Senator, I guess) Marco Rubio is voicing their concerns.

    It’s easy to see this as the final merger between oil and state in the United States, the end of climate action and proof of the unstoppable power of oil titans. And let’s be honest — if confirmed, Tillerson would be terrible. Exxon’s decades of deception have locked humanity into some degree of unavoidable climate impacts. Trump rewarded that behavior with the keys to United States foreign policy. 

    But Tillerson’s nomination reveals another important story: the oil industry is really desperate.

    Clean energy is booming and oil reserves are increasingly at risk of becoming stranded, which means tanking stocks and fleeing investors for companies like Exxon. At the same time, local and national opposition to oil and gas infrastructure — like the Dakota Access Pipeline movement— is winning, reminding us how deeply unpopular these companies are. 

    Exxon has responded with millions of dollars in slick advertising under its “Energy Lives Here” campaign. These ads depict Exxon’s innovative technology and responsible commitment to reducing pollution, with soundbites from hip engineers and scientists. Forget those oily birds … Exxon is cool now, kids!

    In reality, Exxon is relying on partnerships with unscrupulous, authoritarian regimes to stay afloat. Some of Exxon’s biggest oil holdings are in the Russian Arctic, where Tillerson has partnered with Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin— a man the local media refer to as Darth Vader — on joint drilling ventures. In fact, Tillerson’s climb up the corporate ladder was likely fueled by his close business relationships in Russia.

    US sanctions against Russia have already cost Exxon more than US$1 billion. Perhaps as a small consolation prize, Tillerson can bask in his “Order of Friendship” award from Vladimir Putin.

    In short, Exxon needs the power of the US State Department to make its business model work. 

    Tillerson and his industry friends need significant influence over US foreign policy to stay viable. That’s terrible business! 

    You don’t see Apple CEO Tim Cook, for example, vying to be Secretary of State. He doesn’t need to because people actually want iPhones. In fact, in the weeks following Trump’s electoral college victory, successful American companies have stated their commitment to climate action with or without Trump — because they don’t need him in their pocket to stay afloat. 

    Trump is continuing to show that there is no Republican establishment dream he won’t fulfill. His appointments are a who’s who of political insiders and billionaire corporate CEOs. With Tillerson set to go through the confirmation process — which should involve grilling from the US Senate and considerable pressure from concerned citizens across the United States — we’ll see the oil industry’s true colors.

    Tillerson knows that renewable energy is wildly popular across every demographic and political affiliation. He knows it’s becoming the cheapest, most effective way to power communities and create economic opportunity. And that’s why he’s joining forces with the Trump administration — to squash progress and keep his oligarch buddies rich.

    The oil industry is finally throwing all its chips on the table in an attempt to seem too big to take down. We’re not fooled. Let’s see this for what it truly is — the last breath of a dying industry that would drown the world to stay afloat. Which means we’re only one epic battle away from victory.

    Are you in the US? Join the fight and tell your senator to block Tillerson’s nomination and keep Exxon out of the White House.

    Kelly Mitchell is the Energy Campaign Director at Greenpeace USA.

    A version of this blog was originally posted by Greenpeace USA.

  • Every single piece of plastic ever made still exists. Here’s the story.

    Plastic toothbrushes are lined up on Kahuku beach, Hawaii. 26 Oct, 2006,  © Greenpeace / Alex Hofford

    From the moment we wake up in the morning and brush our teeth, to when we watch TV at the end of the day, plastic is all around us. So much so that it can be hard to imagine leaving the supermarket without at least one item that isn’t in a plastic container.

    It hasn't always been like this. In fact, there are people alive today that were born in an almost plastic-free world. Imagine going to the beach and not finding a single piece of washed up plastic trash.

    What, in the course of history, caused such a change?

    Plastic waste is seen washed ashore in the Truk Lagoon, Micronesia. 15 Jun, 2016,  © Robert Marc Lehmann / Greenpeace

    There are a few stories of what drove the demand for modern plastics. One version is that, in the second half of the 19th century, companies in the billiard ball industry realised they needed a substitute for ivory. By then, humans were consuming at least one million pounds of the material each year, and newspapers were reporting that elephants would soon become extinct if that pace continued.

    And so the race to come up with a new material began. Over the course of several decades, chemists from Europe and US searched for solutions. After years of trial and error, they discovered plastic as we know it today, and by the beginning of the 20th century, people could buy hair combs and clothes with buttons that were not made of ivory.

    Even with this scientific development, there were still no plastic bags flying around the cities, or fish being caught up in plastic rings. So, what triggered this explosion of plastic in our lives?

    Two important factors pushed manufacturers to embrace this substance. First was the development of mass production assembly lines. Before that, factories required a lot of labour to manufacture even a single product, making plastic prohibitively time consuming.

    The second factor was World War II. The material was used in many ways, from bazooka barrels to aircraft components, and between 1939 and 1945, the production of plastic grew by almost four times. With the end of the war, plastic companies needed to keep making a profit, so they had to switch from military vehicles to Barbie dolls. Plastic was so cheap, everyone could afford it: plastic containers, plastic furniture, plastic toys. And that's when the material gained widespread traction.

    Data from PlasticsEurope,

    But what was a solution before is a problem now. Because plastic lasts for so long, every single piece of plastic ever made still exists, and will continue existing for at least 500 years. To put that in context, if Leonardo da Vinci had drunk water from a plastic bottle when he was painting the Mona Lisa, that bottle would not have fully decomposed yet.

    Everyday, more and more plastic keeps being produced, used and thrown away. In countries where disposable cups are made of plastic, for example, it may take only seconds for one to leave the package, be used, and end up in a trash can. So much plastic is being consumed that there is an area bigger than France of throw-away plastic swirling at all depths in the North Pacific Ocean. It has become so ubiquitous that birds are using it to build their nests.

    Gannets on Heligoland with Plastic Waste. 7 Aug, 2015,  © Robert Marc Lehmann / Greenpeace

    And it’s not just the amount of plastic being produced. Everything related to plastic is damaging the planet, from the impact of extracting the fossil fuels used to produce plastic, to the health effects of the toxins it releases into the environment when it is burned, to the devastating impact on sea life.

    There is something you can do about it. Reducing the amount of plastic you use might seem difficult, but it's simpler than you think. You can make a difference by many ways, from simple actions like bringing your own bag to the grocery store, to avoiding plastic cutlery and products containing microbeads. What is important is to be conscious about what you are consuming and how it is affecting not only your life and your surroundings, but the whole planet and its many magnificent species, large and small.

    Diego Gonzaga is a social media strategist for the Americas at Greenpeace USA

  • Wisdom & Foolishness

    For Earth scientists and environmental activists, the urgent need for a dramatic shift in humanity’s relationship with the world seems painfully obvious, yet we find ourselves pushing against obsolete systems of economics and development and against a relentless commitment to a destructive path. When the wise path appears so obvious to us, why do human social systems continue to make foolish decisions?

    I believe that “intelligence” arises from natural process, inherent in life itself, in all species of life and manifested in myriad forms throughout the biosphere. Intelligence appears as the quality of organisms to interface successfully, and durably, with the world in all its complexity. 

    'Brain' coral, Ashmore Reef, Australia. 01/08/1999 © Greenpeace / Roger Grace'Brain' coral, Ashmore Reef, Australia

    We sense that humans have evolved a particularly dynamic intelligence; a capacity for reading the patterns of nature, for reasoning, logic, crafting tools, learning from the past and planning for the future. Learning to make fire, over hundreds of thousands of years, may have helped advance early human cognition beyond that of our other primate relatives and the complexity of large social systems may have accelerated these cognitive powers.  

    Given this extraordinary intelligence that evolved with humans, we may expect that our societies could achieve ecological wisdom, understand the limits of our habitats and adjust society to avoid ecological disaster. Most successful species — algae in a pond, predators in a watershed — will overshoot habitat capacity and then collapse back into balance. We witness this in classic predator-prey relationships. Humanity faces this gnawing question: can we recognise our dilemma and avoid large-scale collapse? Will we be able to use our intelligence wisely or will we use our intelligence foolishly, for fashioning exotic entertainment, amassing wealth and power, or for short-term pleasures and frivolous gratifications?

    The Conflicted Species

    Terms such as “intelligence” and “wisdom” are difficult to define. We witness simple people who manifest extreme wisdom and we witness highly educated people who exhibit astounding foolishness. What are the relationships among intelligence, education, goodness and wisdom? Why do humans act individually and collectively in ways that appear foolish and self-destructive?

    The early Saxon, Norse, English root for the word wisdom — 'wis' or 'wistuom' — originates from the idea of “law, judgement, or judicial precedent.” However, we all know of laws, judgments and precedents that, in retrospect, were not at all wise and often outright foolish. 

    The Spanish word for wisdom, 'sabiduría', comes from the verbs 'saber' (to know or taste) and 'durar' (to last), so we get the idea of durable knowledge, an experience of the world that stands the test of time. This Spanish word appears more useful; a durable wisdom is the wisdom we are looking for. Education alone isn’t enough.

    Canadian ecologist William Rees, Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia, who formulated “ecological footprint” analysis, is drafting a chapter for the forthcoming “Community Resilience Reader,” from the Post Carbon Institute. In the draft, “The Struggle Within”, on the failure of high intelligence, Rees points out that Homo sapiens are “an inherently conflicted species”. Although we are able to apply our intelligence in reasonable ways to solve complex problems, we also exhibit tendencies, especially under stress, to “act out of rage, jealousy, fear or other powerful emotions in ways that are utterly untainted by reason”. 

    Humans might exhibit sociopathic tendencies, lie, cheat or commit petty crimes under stress, to defend or feed themselves or their family. However, we also witness people lying, cheating and committing crimes simply to enrich themselves, gain power or even to flaunt power. 

    Sperm whales off the coast of Sri Lanka. 18/04/2013  © Paul Hilton / GreenpeaceSperm whales off the coast of Sri Lanka

    We are conflicted, Rees explains, because “the human brain evolved in stages with each new neural component becoming integrated with pre-existing structures”. We share the advanced cerebral cortex — the seat of reason, language and creativity — with other mammals (cetaceans possess the largest cerebral cortices on Earth). However, in evolutionary terms, this impressive cortex is a recent addition to the more primal brain: The limbic system, governing emotions and relationships, and the ancient reptilian brain stem that governs autonomic functions such as breathing and survival instincts such as aggression or deceit to gain some advantage. 

    In 1990, in The Triune Brain, Paul D. Maclean explains that the three distinct brain components function as an integrated whole, resulting in actual decisions and behaviour that arise from a mix of logic, emotions and primal instincts. “This can be a problem,” Rees points out. “Some people seem to be rational … others, exposed to the same ‘inputs’, abandon all reason to fear, anger, sorrow, etc., as suits the occasion.  … Most people think they are acting reasonably even on occasions when others view them as ill-tempered wing-nuts.”

    Rees references the work of Tony W. Buchanan on the Retrieval of Emotional Memories, which shows that “long-term memories are influenced by the emotion experienced during learning as well as by the emotion experienced during memory retrieval.” This means that even when we intend to be reasonable, our thoughts, words and actions remain influenced by emotional memories, from deep within our subconscious, that may appear as foolishness to others. 

    When we face a problem, and calculate a response, our thoughts are influenced by signals from the amygdala and hippocampus in the limbic system, the seat of fear and emotional memory. Blood may rush into our head and our hands may shake in the ancient “fight or flight” response.  Our thoughts and actions can also be influenced by ancient programmed responses in the reptilian brain, which is reliable in keeping us alive but tends to be rigid and compulsive. Furthermore, these primal regions of the brain gain influence when we experience stress. 

    Therefore, a person who denies that global warming is real, or who believes that human society can continue to grow and exploit Earth’s bounty without limits, may simply be responding to the stress from fear about the future. We witness this in much of the wishful thinking in modern society, including the popular grasping at false solutions. The mind of the deluded citizen may be trying to calm itself down by imagining that everything is okay. 

    Meta-learning for survival 

    Rees points out that these ancient responses exist for good reason, even if they are not always appropriate. “In the long-term evolutionary scheme of things … selection pressures may have limited the circumstances in which logic and reason prevail over seemingly ‘primitive’ but more tried and true impulses. That said, behaviours that worked well for the individual at earlier stages in human evolution … may be fatal to the common good today.”

    The global ecological crisis remains a collective challenge that requires genuine collective solutions and may render personal survival instincts obsolete in certain cases. We witness in the world today how nationalism, racism, old hatreds and private egos sabotage necessary international cooperation based on the most obvious and critical evidence.

    “Political discourse today is tainted by misinformation, magical thinking and appeals to the basest of human instincts,” laments Rees. “We seem to be entering a 21st century ‘endarkenment.’ … H. sapiens’ reasoning powers are not yet sufficiently sophisticated or masterful to be trusted with control over humanity’s collective destiny… denial, resistance to change, rage against ‘the other’ and like motivations have become downright maladaptive in a period of climate uncertainty, incipient resource scarcity and increasing geopolitical tension.”

    Under stress, well-educated people, institutions and nations often resort to fear, old political dogma and magical thinking in response to crisis. Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” to be the 2016 word of the year, describing a climate in which “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” 

    Genuine wisdom, on the other hand, seems related to not only functioning well in the world but to also helping others function well or helping the larger system function well. Genuine wisdom, durable wisdom, appears linked to common decency. Smart people, who can describe some aspect of the world accurately, are not necessarily “wise”, but people (or other creatures) who function well in the world and who help other parts of the system function well, appear wise.  There is no wisdom where there is no goodness. Or, as philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “I wish that I were better and smarter. And these both are one and the same.” 

    Ecologists, disappointed at the pace of ecological change, may benefit by accepting that genuine, large scale cultural change takes a long time and involves cultural re-learning. Activists will gain strength by stepping back from the routine cultural discourse and learning more about their own emotional responses and others’ emotional responses, a sort of meta-learning about deeper truths. This is why storytelling is so important in cultural transformation. Wise storytelling reaches people at a deeper emotional level than reciting facts and figures. We must continually seek this deeper, more durable wisdom. 

    Rex Weyler is an author, journalist and co-founder of Greenpeace International.


    Post Carbon Institute: Books and Reports. (Look for the upcoming book “Community Resilience Reader”).

    How fire-making contributed to human cognition: Fire Then & Now Deep Green blog.

    William Rees: Bio at Post Carbon Institute.

    Paul D. Maclean on The Triune Brain.

    Tony W. Buchanan on the Retrieval of Emotional Memories

  • 9 incredible feats of people power that happened in 2016

    The Indigenous and environmental rights movement was stronger than ever...

    This year proved that when real life David and Goliath battles happen, word spreads, people listen, the truth eventually comes out, and the movement becomes bigger and stronger. 

    - A mega-dam planned for construction in the heart of the Amazon, had its license cancelled - a massive victory for the Munduruku people and more than 1.2 million people around the world who supported the campaign.

    - The people of Clyde River– an Inuit community in the Canadian Arctic –  went to the Supreme Court of Canada for the government’s failure to properly consult the community before handing permits to fossil fuel companies for oil exploration in the area.

    - And after a rough, threatening, and tense battle, dedication and perseverance paid off for the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies when the Dakota access pipeline was finally halted.

    A water protector holds up an eagle feather in front a line of police at a camp near the Standing Rock Reservation.A water protector holds up an eagle feather in front a line of police at a camp near the Standing Rock Reservation.

    ...and so is the fight to hold the Big Polluters accountable.

    This year, a wave of people-powered legal cases - including in the Philippines, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Switzerland and USA - gained momentum to keep fossil fuels in the ground and demand a stable climate and healthy environment.

    From disaster survivors, frontline communities, Indigenous Peoples, farmers, youth, grandmothers, and more, these people are pushing back because fossil fuel companies and governments are failing to protect and respect human rights.

    Renewables kept winning...

    There’s no stopping the power of the sun…or the wind! Renewables has kept growing with the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) report showing declining coal use and significant renewable energy uptake, providing renewed hope for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

    …and it kicked coal’s butt.

    China’s long running campaign to reduce coal consumption continues to reverberate globally:

    - Vietnam committed to coal free development, ending plans for 70 new coal fired plants

    - Obama placed a moratorium on new coal new leases in the U.S.

    - Mines were closed or lost permits in Poland, Romania, Belgium, and Israel; with huge influence swayed in the Netherlands, France, Brazil and India to place pressure on governments to close their plants.

    Coal plant in Yulin, Shaanxi provinceCoal plant in Yulin, Shaanxi province

    Oil drilling was given the big heave-ho...

    BP was about to bring its “Deep Water Horizon version 2.0” to Australia’s southern coast, but constant campaigning pressured BP to pull out from its oil drilling plans.

    Statoil also pulled out of plans to drill off the west coast of New Zealand's North Island (though is planning to drill elsewhere).

    And best of all, Obama and Trudeau banned offshore drilling in parts of the Atlantic and Arctic Ocean. Hurray for whales!

    …and forests were saved.

    85% of the forested areas of the Great Bear Rainforest in Canada were protected from logging – a size larger than Belgium! 

    The Amazon rainforest was protected from being cleared for soybean farming and a soy moratorium has been put in place - big news for the Amazon, for Indigenous Peoples, farmers, business and for all of us around the world fighting to end deforestation.

    Best of all, pandas were saved from illegal logging in the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries – a UNESCO World Heritage Site - after Greenpeace China u