Monday, 26 November 2007

"I sent you forth my brightest world, now it's nearly gone"





This was posted on the Federation's website on 24 November 2007




24 November 2007
Bob McKerrow, Head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent’s Indonesia delegation

As we come close to the start of UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, Bob McKerrow, Head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent’s Indonesia delegation reflects on where the world’s oldest and largest humanitarian organisation has come from in terms of championing environmental issues.

McKerrow is one of the longest-serving International Federation delegates and has also published three books inspired by nature. He has climbed and trekked extensively in New Zealand, Europe, Peru, Antarctica, Borneo, East Africa, Nepal, India, Central Asia and has also been on expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic.

In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, and for the first time united the representatives of multiple governments to discuss the state of the global environment. This conference led directly to the creation of government environment agencies and the UN Environment Program.

Henrik Beer, Secretary General of the International Federation (from 1960-82) participated in the conference, and was deeply moved by predictions of the earth slowly destroying itself. He left inspired and determined to get the Red Cross Red Crescent involved in environmental programmes in order to stop the environmental degradation that he believed was worsening the plight of vulnerable people.

In 1972-73 the phrase “Climate Change” had not been coined, but Henrik Beer’s vision changed the way some Red Cross Crescent societies thought and acted, as they started undertaking environmental programmes, a shift that set the foundation for an easy understanding of the later, and insidious onset of global warming.

Slowly Henrik encouraged Red Cross societies such as Ethiopia - suffering from drought in 73-74 - to plant trees and to get young people involved. He had similar messages for flood-stricken Nepal and India. He was passionate about reforestation, he understood overgrazing and the need to protect mountain lands and water catchments. In 1975 when I went to Nepal as a disaster preparedness delegate, he reminded me of the need to plant trees and make the young aware of the need to care for the environment.

In 1981, when I was working in India on a huge cyclone preparedness programme, Henrik Beer made his last field visit as secretary general. We were building 233 cyclone shelters and part of the programme was an integrated disaster preparedness programme where young volunteers planted trees to protect the coastline, the shelters, and drainage canals. Henrik was thrilled to see the Indian volunteers active with environmental programmes.

Today, planting trees for protection along cyclone prone coastlines is an archetypal way of addressing the increased threats posed by climate change.

Two years after Henrik Beer started his tenure as secretary general in 1960, the book “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson was published. It highlighted the impact of chemicals on the natural environment. At the time this was revelatory stuff. In 1967 the Torrey Canyon oil tanker went aground off the southwest coast of England, and in 1969 oil spilled from an offshore well in California's Santa Barbara Channel. In 1971 the conclusion of a lawsuit in Japan drew international attention to the effects of decades of mercury poisoning on the people of Minamata.

At the same time, emerging scientific research threw the spotlight on existing and hypothetical threats to the environment and humanity. Among them were Paul R. Ehrlich, whose book “The Population Bomb”, published in 1968, revived concerns about the impact of population growth. Biologist Barry Commoner generated a debate about growth, affluence and "flawed technology." Additionally, an association of scientists and political leaders known as the Club of Rome published their report “The Limits to Growth” in 1972, which drew attention to the growing pressure on natural resources from human activities. Meanwhile, nuclear proliferation and the first photos of Earth from space emphasized the consequences of technological accomplishments, as well as Earth's truly small place in the universe.

Henrik Beer was a voracious reader and kept abreast of world affairs and especially topics related to humanity and environment. I was fortunate in coming to Geneva in early 1975 as a young desk officer and met him on many occasions. Henrik spoke with conviction and passion about the environment.

His words, spoken over three decades ago, could have been written yesterday as a rallying call for all civil society and government organisations to come together and safeguard our future:

“Can the agencies and the many INGOs each treat the world network of organizations as an administrative problem when it clearly represents an unstudied social problem? Is it not an unexplored global network of resources — of which the governmental and business worlds are an integral part – which has not yet been effectively related to the peace/population/food/development/education/environment crisis precisely because the functional relationship of all the parts to the social whole is repeatedly and systematically ignored in organizational decisions?

“It is no longer useful to concentrate on the problems of one "independent" organization or group of organizations (as though each operated as an autonomous frontier outpost surrounded by uncharted terrain). Nor is it useful to focus on a single geographical region or subject area -- it is now essential to look at the problems of the network of interdependent organizations and their inter- related concerns.”

Mama Nature said
"It's murder what you've done"
I sent you forth my brightest world
Now it's nearly gone

Mama Nature said
"I can't believe it's true"
I gave you life and food for thought
Look what did you do

You're killing my rivers
Drowning my baby streams
Day by day by day by day
I hear them scream

Mama Nature said
"You're guilty of this crime"
Now it's not just a matter of fact
But just a matter of time

MamaNature Said, by Thin Lizzy, 1973

Monday, 19 November 2007

Henrik Beer and Climate Change

With the UN Climate Change conference coming up in Bali next month, it is interesting to look back at the contribution Henrik Beer made to bringing environmental issues to centre stage in the world.

There is a widely prevalent tendency to think of organizations, particularly international organizations, - as functioning within thesocial system like billiard balls on a table. In this view, they may "knock into" one another, but essentially they are completely unrelated to one another -- there is no permanent organic relationship between them.

This view resembles that which lies at the base of current environmental problems, namely that each factory can function in its environment as though its products had no significant effect on other parts of nature. In the past year, however, it has become widely recognized that man exists in a very delicate and complex equilibrium with his environment, -- any industrial activity may have consequences for any other. Each factory functions in a web or network of dynamic relationships with other factories, via the processes of the natural environment.

To what extent is it recognized that every socialactivity of man -- the domain of most INGOs -- may have significant consequences for any other social activity? It is, in fact, impossible to predict which organizations will give rise to problems by their actions, which other bodies will be affected, and which bodies will then be in the best position to undertake compensatory action. All social entities — INGOs, IGGs, groups, national or local bodies, movements, and individuals — are bound together in a delicate web of interdependent social relationships, in which each is autonomous and at the same time, dependent on the actions of others. It is a truism that "No man is an island unto himself" but it is not so widely recognized that none of man's organizations can function in isolation.

This is clearly recognized in one field as shown by the following extract from a speech by Henrik Beer, Secretary General of the League of Red Cross Societies, at the 15th International Conference on Social Welfare:

One of the most important trends in the field of international voluntary service in recent years has been the recognition that social development cannot be pried loose from economic and political development and that the work of volunteer organizations cannot be isolated from other aspects of social work Prognostics for voluntary service must be seen as part of a whole. It is already outmoded to look on community social services as an entity in itself: it is part of a socio-economic whole...

From now on U.N. programmes will not be considered individually. Priority will be given to a total approach by every country to their own development planning, with harmonised progress and, hopefully, no comp├ętition between different agencies and ministries about priorities, people and money.

The same will apply to our planning -- we shall no longer promote only the programmes we favour. The excessive stress placed on the autonomy of organizations masks the links between them. Excessive focus on one type of link — the consultative relationship with UN agencies - de-emphasizes the many other links, formal and informal, between organizations of many types, thus rendering impossible any balanced understanding of the social system.

Can INGOs — recognized or unrecognized by the UN system -- adopt, any course of collective action which is so shortsighted and procedure-oriented as to expressly favor only isolated. international organizations whilst ignoring the immensely complex world network of organizations of all types which stretches from the individual to local, national and international bodies to include the potentially highly-significant inter-INGO groupings?

For that matter, can the UN agencies afford to encourage any action which fragments INGOs into unrelated agency-oriented groupings at a point in time when the global crisis is completely multi-disciplinary, and demands the utilization of every available resource? Can the agencies and the many INGOs each treat the world network of organizations as an administrative problem when it clearly represents an unstudied social problem? Is it not an unexplored global network of resources — of which the governmental and business worlds are an integral part -- which has notyet been effectively related to the peace/population/food/development/education/environment crisis precisely because the functional relationship of all the parts to the social whole is repeatedly and systematically ignored in organizational decisions?

It is no longer useful to concentrate on the problems of one "independent" organization or group of organizations (as though each operated as an autonomous frontier outpost surrounded by uncharted terrain). Nor is it useful to. focus on a single geographical region or subject area -- it is now essential to look at the problems of the network of interdependent organizations and their inter- related concerns. (The terrain is now charted and populated so that the previously isolated frontier posts can now band together to survive as a community.) The nature and complexity of interdependence between plants and animals in nature has been the theme of the whole environment /ecology issue and the 1970 European Conservation Year. Perhaps this interdependence, still only recognized with great difficulty, between extremely different organisms can be used as a parallel to illustrate the nature of the interdependence between organizations of different typesand social function. This social interdependence has yet to be recognized with precision despite frequent use of such terms as the "international community." A century ago it was precisely this theme of interdependence between natural organisms which was forcefully stressed amid much controversy with texts such as the following :

"Many casesare on record showing how complex and unexpected are the checks and relations between organic beings which have to struggle together in the same country... I am tempted to give one more instance showing, how plants and animals, most remote in the scale of nature, arebound together by a web of complex relations." (Charles Darwin. The Origin of Species, London, 1859)
The example showed how two species of flower were fertilized with the aid of humble — boos whose nests were attacked by field-mice, which were in turn preyed upon by cats.

"Hence it is quite credible that the presence of a feline animal in large numbers in a district might determine, through the intervention first of mice and then of bees, the frequency of certain flowers in that district... A corollaryof the highest importance may be deduced from the foregoing remarks, namely that the structure of every organic being is related, in the most essential yet often hidden manner, to that of all other organic beings, with which it comes into competition for food or residence, or from which it has to escape, or on which it preys."
With this perspective, what can be said of the relationship between such social structures as governmental, and nongovernmental, profit and nonprofit, formal and informal organizations, movements, periodicals, mass media, etc? Is enough yet. known of organizational ecology, namely the chains of interdependence between social organizations of totally different types, to be able to determine which actions of one type of organisation will directly or indirectly affect the operations and even the survival of which other types of organizations responsible in society for other functions?

"The program of a large organization, whether intended or not.... affects a wide sector of the organization's environment, one much wider than the organization may understand to be its surrounds...Organizations that wish to deal responsibly with their social surrounds must be capable of eliciting and evaluating responses from those who realize that they are affected hut who ore ordinarily silent, and from those who are affected but may not realize it..." (R. A. Rosenthal and R.S. Weiss, Problems of Organizational Feedback Processes.)
In view of the ignorance of these inter-organizational processes and of the ecological role of different categories of the social flora and fauna:

"We think that anybody who wished to sort out "necessary" and "superfluous" or "justified" and "unjustified" NGO's so as to prove the alienation that there is an inflation of international organizations (in the deprecatory sense) would find it rather hard to define his criteria and would have to claim for himself the foresight of a prophet before making his judgement in a great many cases. Furthermore, even the smallest, lowliest, and oddest NGO's may well bo regarded as an expression of the genuine longing of their members for more international contact, understanding and cooperation. Such longings should be taken seriously because human motivation and psychological factors of this kind are of considerable importance for the whole present and future development of international organizations." (Alexander Szalai. The Future of international organizations, New York, UNITAR, 1970. Paper presented to a seminar on organizations of the future.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Nepal: Ramesh Kumar Sharma- comments on Henrik Beer

I just received an email from Ramesh Kumar Sharma, former Chairman of the Nepal Red Cross Society for decades. He was also a founder member of the Nepal Red Cross Society.

Dear Bob


I hope you this finds you in good spirit and an energetic mood.

I met Henrik Beer first time in 1966 in Kathmandu. The date was 22nd March.

The next time he was specially requested to come to solve the Emblem issue. The Queen wanted a special emblem for the Nepal Red Cross which he amicablly and convincingly settled at the Palace. The date was 15 Feb i981.

I met him again in 1981 in Manila during the International Conference when he was retiring. He was very dynamic person.

Regards,
Sincerely
Ramesh

Ramesh Kumar Sharma