Scarcity of food, overpopulation and CO₂ production

The artificial fertiliser market is worth about $400 billion dollars. Those involved do not want to see that reduced!

Over 50% of that market is production of 200 million tonnes of nitrogenous fertiliser each year.  That fertilizer is required to feed our over-populated planet. Half the world’s population relies on artificial fertiliser.

8 billion people on the planet, half needing that fertiliser. That is about 50 kilos each or 1 kilogramme of fertiliser per person per week.

Each additional person increases the demand. When we have gone from 8 billion to 12 billion people, the fertiliser need will have doubled. The market will have doubled too. Ker-ching!

(Oh, heck. We’re at 8.1 billion people already. I thought we only just heard it was 8.0 billion.)

Production of nitrogenous fertiliser is energy intensive. It is responsible for 2.1% of greenhouse gas emissions. A 50% increase in the population will double those emissions.

To feed our over-sized population, we are using artificial nitrogenous fertiliser, which is a carbon-industry product.

For our population to keep growing we must increase our CO₂ production.

This is why some people keep saying “WE NEED MORE PEOPLE TO, umm, thinks, there must be something, oh yeah, LOOK AFTER YOU WHEN YOU ARE OLD!!!!

The carbon industry would love there to be more people on the planet, because without the carbon-based fuels, they would starve to death. Ker-ching!

Eat up your petroleum (and coal and gas) products people! Om, nom, nom!

This is going to get very ugly within a couple of decades.  Seriously, we are so doomed unless we do something about climate change and our increasing overpopulation.

Useful resources –

Looking for a non-commercial alternative to Zoom?  Want a particularly secure search tool?  Need office automation tools suitable for private collaborative working?  Consider looking at the services of the Dutch organisation  They provide a variety of useful online services, including videoconferencing, that seems to be aimed at activist type organisations and they use a pay-what-you-want model.  They host everything themselves and, where they can, make it secure and private.

One needs to register to use some of their services, but not the Jitsi Meet video conferencing.  That seems to have all the functionality one might desire: chat, hand-raising, recording, screen sharing and so on.  It runs from the browser so works on most anything.

The other functions on also look very useful: document and spreadsheet collaboration, fora, shared cloud storage, polls, project Kanban boards and chat.

Registration takes a couple of days to be processed.  I’ve just started the process for myself so I can have a play with what they provide.  But some facilities are available for anyone to use.

Mail.  You get a email address.  So it is associated with them, but it is free.

Cloud.  Online storage.  This is horribly expensive through most providers but starts at free with Disroot for 2Gb of data.  54Gb of shared storage is merely about £82 per year!  They use NextCloud, which is the same solution as I settled on for the Conscience cloud-based file-sharing solution (although that does not use the cloud; I host it).

Forum.  Can be used as an online public or private forum or as a discussion mailing list.  We have a Conscience forum of our own now anyway, since the last EC meeting.

XMPP.  This is an instant messaging protocol.  Remember instant messaging?  Where you have an app open on your desktop and you can immediately chat to colleagues / friends and see when they are online?  Mostly replaced by social media sites now but still useful for chatting confidentially with others online.  This is what I was looking for: an IM server as I use Pidgin to communicate between my PCs.

Pads.  Online collaboration for shared text documents.  This looks like a really useful tool for working on something together when online.  Here’s an example.  One could write something in draft in advance, then share the link, then agree a time to finalise its content together.  This does not require an account.  The document stays for about six months before being deleted.

Calc.  Same thing as Pads, but for a spreadsheet.  Does not sound so useful, but is a good way of capturing lists.

Upload.  For sending a document to someone securely.  You drag the file to the web page and it is encrypted before sending and stored on the server in encrypted form.  It provides you with a long code to retrieve the file which you send to the recipient to download the file.  You can add a password to de-encrypt it, and set it to auto-delete once it has been downloaded.  Can be handy just for sending something to yourself that you don’t want anyone else to see, or files that are too big to send by email.

Polls.  Make your own polls, completely customisable.  For sending out to people asking their opinions, selecting choices, etc.  This does not require an account.

Project Board.  Similar to Trello; looks like it requires an account.  Trello might be better, but Disroot is secure.

Calls.  This is Jitsi Meet video conferencing and it works.  It seems to have all the functionality one might desire: chat, hand-raising, recording, screen sharing and so on.  It runs from the browser so works on most anything.  This does not require an account.

CryptpadApparently, an “encrypted collaborative office suite… allows you to create, share and work together on text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, whiteboards or organize your project on a kanban board”.  That seems to be the overarching name for the solution they use for their office tools.  If someone was setting up a small campaigning organisation, this looks like a potentially good solution for collaborative working.

They’ve other functionality too, such as managing software source code and audio conferencing.  One can also pay a nominal sum to make use of your own domain name with their email.  You could register and use Disroot’s email services with that domain name.

So there are a few useful things there.  Some of that functionality might give ideas for other ways of working, especially remotely.  And as a package, it might be very useful for any small campaigning organisation.  And the price is very competitive!

What do you think?

A practical toolkit for peacebuilding

“This course aims to provide peacebuilders and everyone working in unstable and conflict-prone situations with a practical toolkit for peacebuilding.”

And that is what needs to be available to anyone on the planet.

Conflict Transformation: your practical toolkit for peacebuilding – a short course provided by Peace Direct. Link.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to sign up early and be allowed to do it for free.

The technical and other technicalities of a new organisation

What have I learned from my volunteering?

A friend expressed a desire to create a peace organisation and the first things that sprang to mind were:

  • the need for a name. It must be meaningful, appropriate, memorable, decent, SEO-friendly.
  • the means to raise funds
  • sufficient independence to get on with what the founders want to achieve
  • it needs publicity
  • it could do with high profile supporters
  • a blog can be helpful for giving less formal, more human, messages
  • a web site is essential
  • a web site requires people to keep writing content
  • a web site requires maintenance, applying updates, security controls, interfaces with social media, checking backups are working, detecting having been hacked
  • at least one domain name (needed for the web site and, ideally, email addresses)
  • something controversial to gain media coverage and attention
  • an understanding of its target audiences and how to communicate with them
  • knowledge of similar organisations with which to collaborate
  • the means, time and knowledge to create and drive collaboration with other organisations
  • a purpose
  • a plan
  • an idea of what “finished” or “success” will look like
  • specific responsibilities and authorities for individuals involved so they know what they should, can and cannot do
  • email addresses for the organisation and its individuals
  • a governance model with a committee or leadership and defined rules for managing it to prevent infighting
  • a legal structure (unincorporated, ltd co by guarantee, community interest company, charity, etc.)
  • a social media policy: which web sites and internet facilities to use, when, how with defined messages with defined purposes
  • a mailing list and the means to manage it
  • an online discussion forum with the supporting active moderation
  • an online shop with the necessary legal processes to protect people’s payment details and the staff and processes to deliver what is sold
  • equipment such as computers, mobile phones with cameras, franking machine, printer(s)
  • staff with the necessary recruitment, supervision, retention, development and appraisal processes
  • volunteers with the necessary recruitment, supervision, retention, development and appraisal processes
  • financial management, ideally with open reporting
  • an ethical policy regarding the law, environment, procurement, staff and anything else appropriate, with the supporting monitoring and reporting processes
  • the means of sharing information between staff and volunteers with appropriate backup, recovery, anti-virus and security controls
  • accounts with suppliers (e.g. stationery), technical services (e.g. Zoom) and so on, with the means of securely keeping passwords

UK aid from 0.7% to 0.5%

There has been a UK government announcement about reducing aid from 0.7% to 0.5%.

The argument is that since the economy is struggling1, we ought to spend less on aid (“charity begins at home” and all that). But the idea of paying a percentage is that is goes down when the economy is suffering anyway. So reducing the percentage reduces the amount twice over. Also, since the economy has shrunk, reducing the %age spent on aid claws back less money than it first appears, it claws back 0.2% of less that it would have.

Of what is it 0.7% or 0.5%?
It is a %age of the Gross National Income (GNI). What is GNI? That is the new term for Gross National Product (GNP) which is in turn a slightly tweaked version of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The GNI is as near as damnit the same as GDP. The GDP is all the goods and services we make in the UK, so the aid budget is a proportion of that. GDP is about £500 billion, so the aid budget is about

In 2016, the UK spent £13.4 billion on overseas aid.
In 2019 the aid budget was about £15.2 billion.

Why 0.7%?
0.7% is the UN’s target for all developed countries and has been since 1970.
That was a commitment from nine members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s development assistance committee.
The UK government signed up to the target in 1974 but it only achieved it for the first time in 2013.
In 2015 it was put into UK law.

How much is it going down?
It is expected to go down by £2.9bn due to the decrease in the economy, to £12.3 billion and the reduction to 0.5% will bring it down to about £8.8 billion. An overall reduction of about 42%.

What has the government said?
The government announcement said that aid will be combined into diplomacy. That suggests it will not be spent on the items it was spent on. Instead it will go to:

  1. fund climate change related activity in developing countries;
  2. spending on Covid-19 measures in developing countries;
  3. education of girls;
  4. an umbrella of measures in health (is also item 2), education (is also item 3), resilience (is also item 5), low carbon tech (is also item 1), agriculture [probably what everyone thinks of as sustainable aid], economic development (is also item 7), conflict (is also item 6) and poverty [the other view of aid as unsustainable];
  5. democracy and governance;
  6. international collaboration;
  7. trade and investment opportunities.

That sounds like some aid will be diverted to climate change, some to the Covid-19 expenditure, some to supporting other governments, some to supporting large international charities and some to compensating for leaving the EU.

They also said there will be performance assessment. This has been called for in the past but it is not yet clear how performance will be measured.

In his speech he talks mostly about the money going on climate change, military peacekeeping, cybersecurity,Covid-19 and education.  So there won’t be anything like so much spent on what people consider as ‘aid’, and what there is will be mostly diverted toward national security measures.

There was no reference to the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, nor to the Stabilisation Unit.

Useful info:
– Full Fact UK spending on foreign aid 15 February 2018

1  “The UK is facing the worst economic contraction in almost 300 years, and a budget deficit of close to £400 billion – double that of the last financial crisis”

A textbook on peacemaking?

One of the frustrations I felt travelling this path is the lack of an off-the-shelf textbook on “How to Do Peace”. Seeing a link to the Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation raised some hope. A single reference book is what I have hoped for.

“The Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation offers a continuously updated online publication platform for both academics and practitioners to review the state of the art, discuss new ideas and exchange experiences in the field of conflict transformation.”

No, it’s not a handbook, it is a web site of articles and downloads.

About the Handbook:
The Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation offers a continuously updated online publication platform for both academics and practitioners to review the state of the art, discuss new ideas and exchange experiences in the field of conflict transformation.

Seemingly useful should be the Berghof Glossary on Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding which sounds promising ‘We first published this small and compact booklet as a guide to our interpretation of the cornerstones of peacebuilding and conflict transformation in 2012‘. However, it is ’20 essays on theory and practice’ in 170 pages. It may be useful, but it’s not really a glossary, is it?

It is another web resource of articles, not an off-the-shelf handbook which is what is needed by those wanting to participate.

We need more data on peace-making

Accept repentant Boko Haram fighters or they go back to terrorism, presidency urges Nigerians

This is a news story about young men who had been members of a terrorist organisation being allowed to repent, and the national leader asking people to allow them back into their communities.

19/09/2019 “the establishment of ‘Operation Safe Corridor’ in Gombe State has been described as a global model in combating insurgency in the world” link.

11/06/2020 “No repentant Boko Haram Terrorists combatant who has been reintegrated into the society will evade arrest if he reneged on the pledge” link.

Anyone who thinks one cannot negotiate with terrorists and one must fight fire with fire could do worse than look at Operation Safe Corridor. The deradicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration (DRR) process of ex- Boko Haram members seems to have been a remarkably impressive demonstration of best practice in tackling extremist violence.

General Olonisakin: “the Armed Forces of Nigeria is not only trying to win the war but to also win the peace”.

It must be incredibly tough on those still displaced or still in areas affected by Boko Haram. Forgiveness does not come easily.

It’s quite an example though of how violent groups recruit and kidnap young people to do their fighting for them, and how such fighters themselves can also be the victims.

I’ve written before about trading justice for peace. Punishing these young men would have been injustice on injustice and not resulted in any peace.

Violence is complicated. Peace is really hard.

I do hope all this gets researched and documented. An observation:

“The operation Safe Corridor is good, but how much have been invested in communities to bolster their resilience capacities, heal their grievances and give them back their lives to enable them embrace these formers? What is the post deradicalisation programme that can effectively monitor these formers to track their progress in reintegration or further resurgence in their old tracks? What has been the role of formers in the process deracalisation or PVE? These and many more should be reassessed and appraised.”

Absolutely – data is needed and needs to be published about conflict interventions and resolution as a bigger picture. This was a major conclusion from my Master’s in Peace Studies – a lack of off-the-shelf case studies fro those new to or outside the field.

Essentially we have the Oxford Research Group’s ‘War Prevention Works : 50 Stories of People Resolving Conflict’ from 2001 and High Miall’s ‘The Peacemakers: Peaceful Settlement of Disputes Since 1945′ from 1992.

I think there is a desperate need for Practitioners’ Manual for Peace based on evidence from past interventions, which requires that consolidation of data to underpin and inform it.

I do find it interesting it appears to be being led by the Armed Forces of Nigeria. How’s that for defence diversification?

IPRA – a professional body for peace researchers (as opposed to practitioners)

In the foreword of Hugh Miall’s 1992 book The Peacemakers, reference is made to “the first conference of British professionals concerned with [peace and conflict resolution] was held in 1963 and the International Peace Research Association was founded later the same year“.

The International Peace Research Association (home page) (Wikipedia entry) (Facebook page) says “International Peace Research Association is the largest and most established global professional organisation in the field of peace research, addressed from a wide range of interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary perspectives“.  So it is for researchers rather than practitioners.  Their ‘brief history’ tab goes to a 40 page document – not a good sign.

The membership link asks for sponsorship.  The ‘becoming a member’ link asks for conference sponsorship.  Click on Membership Form to actually get details; it is €100 per year for students, ouch!  Their web site is a mess with links going to an index of pages and no content or ‘PAGE COMING SOON’ with a 2014 copyright message.

The Facebook page is very sparse, with nothing since 2016.

According to JSTOR, they were responsible for the International Journal of Peace Studies from 1996 to 2013.

Conclusion: not interested.  Was intended for researchers, not practitioners.  Probably moribund.

There is also the IPRA Foundation (home page) (Facebook page) which says “The mission of the IPRA Foundation is to advance the field of peace research through rigorous investigation into the causes of conflict and examination of alternatives to violence. Peace researchers inform peace activities that inspire visions of a peaceful world.” and “Founded in 1990 the IPRA Foundation, a non-profit, tax-exempt organization, furthers the purposes and activities of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) which, since 1965, has sought to enhance the processes of peace.

Other things to look up:

Studying away from university and home

So I studied with the Open University as a distance learning student.  I never attended any OU premises; all lectures were in schools or other universities’ sites.

I attended university in Lancaster.  This gave me face-to-face access to tutors and meant I could study on campus in any of the study areas.  Initially this meant the Graduate College IT Study Area they call their PC Lab.  After the first few months I migrated to studying in the library as I had access to the bookstock and it was more convenient for lectures.

When we moved to Milton Keynes it meant I no longer could study in the Lancaster University library.  I have tried studying at home but, with the usual domestic stuff and unpacking to do, there were too many distractions.  So I have looked into alternative places to study.  The nearest public library is in the town centre where parking must be paid for.  Others have restricted opening hours. The nearest university library is … the Open University library.

So I arranged access through the SCONUL mechanism and today I have visited to see how suitable it is.  I had a wander round and, crikey, the place is like an oven above the first floor.  A member of staff told me that is a design flaw that has been there since construction, so won’t be fixed any time soon.  The 1st floor is the silent study area and it is unbearably hot up there.  That is a shame as it is where the study carrels are.  The 2nd floor study area is less formal but is also very hot.

The ground floor comprises a selection of ‘comfortable’ seating areas which means they will be uncomfortable after a while trying to use a laptop.

Parking is free and there were a couple of empty spaces behind the library.

There is a tepid tap water fountain but no cups. I must bring one next time.  On this occasion I paid £1 for a tea from the vending machine.  Wow!  A new standard in awfulness for vending machine tea.  That is remarkable since it was even worse than the foul browness provide by ICL’s data centre vending machine in Enfield circa 1999 which was considered a prime example of the art form.  Trying to stir in the floaty bits did not make any difference to the appearance.  It tasted like chilli-laced brick dust.  I had to throw away the translucent ochre fluid from the cup, then rinse out the grit from the bottom, so I could use it as a receptacle for the drinking fountain.  As I went to do so, someone else was sucking from the tap as he had neither cup, class nor consideration.  Discovering the water was tepid assured me any germs contained thereon would be fit and healthy.  I should bring my own refreshment in future.

There are some PCs provided in the study areas.  It won’t let me access Lancaster email as it hijacks the Outlook requests and redirects it to the OU.  I did not bother trying out any apps on there; documents would need to be saved to USB and it was too hot to investigate further.

I must remember to bring tissues, if only to wipe the sweat from my fevered brow.

But there is nothing to do here to distract me; not even other students I have studied with.

So I might end up completing my dissertation at the OU as a Lancaster distance learner!

Poor government support for careers

Does the government provide poor careers support because civil servants have jobs for life and politicians have no work experience?

When I started my career change it was early 2012.  At that time the government careers service was NextStep.  That was changed to the National Careers Service.  So I created an account on there in April 2012 and used that instead.

Over time it became an excellent resource for hundreds of different jobs.  It had all sorts of facilities for self assessment.  I made a lot of use of it.  It came with a Lifelong Learning Account.  It allowed one to:

  • update and store your CV, skills health check, action plans, and course searches to help you as you progress through your learning and working life
  • access your qualification details from your Personal Learning Record and track what financial contributions have been made towards your learning
  • manage the information you have gathered to help you make the right choices
  • build a personal profile and receive information more tailored to your needs and situation

I made full use of the Skills Health Check Tools and Action Plans and uploaded CVs.

But it has all changed, presumably to fit into the web sitre structure, which does not suit it at all.  There used to be loads of job market analysis for the roles but that has gone.

It now seems no more useful than the useless ‘careers advice’ we got at school: “What do you want to do?  Oh, we don’t have that on the list.  How about train driver, policeman, typist or nurse?  We have those.”  And the information and advice they provide on searching for jobs and filling in forms could be put on a couple of sides of A4.

So it seems the Lifelong Learning Account and National Careers Service have survived for less time than it has been taking me to change career.  I started my research before it opened, have done an undergrad degree and not yet completed my postgrad degree and the Account and Service have gone.

What a shame.  And waste of taxpayers’ money them constructing it all in the first place for it to be switched off again before people have finished with it.

Fortunately, the Lancaster University Careers Service is superb and has provided me with huge amounts of advice, information and support so I’m OK.  But that does not help the millions of people out there who must be coping with leaving education, being laid off,  wanting career change or just being unemployed and wanting to explore their options.