Meet Beth Doane

Beth Doane is a US fashion designer who after witnessing various human rights violations and environmental impacts caused by fashion manufacturing, began campaigning for change and responsibility within the industry.

Beth has since gone on to found the sustainable clothing brand Raintees, which plants a tree for every item sold, and campaigns on behalf of various causes and communities across the world.

Particularly engaged with issues affecting indigenous peoples in the Amazon rainforest, Beth has worked to raise awareness of Cheveron’s activities in Ecuador, which have resulted in the largest environmental legal damages claim in history, addressing the United Nations on this issue earlier this year.

In her TEDx talk below Beth describes her own personal journey:

 ”I’m on this crazy roller coaster . . . trying to figure out the best thing I can do to make this right, to create a sustainable future”

Her answer starts with being aware – that conscious awareness leads to conscious consumerism. We can’t solve a problem if we don’t know there is a problem.

Photo from Wikicommons

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The War of Ideas

In our hyper-connected 24 hour media global internet age, it’s sometimes hard to remember back to when we had to read a textbook, visit a library, or talk to ‘an expert’ in order to find anything out.

Things have changed.

We now have instant access to virtually endless amounts of information on almost every conceivable subject – deliverable right to the smart phone in our pocket, no matter where we are, via the touch of a few buttons.

In the space of a decade or so our problem has changed from one of having too little information available to us, to one of having far too much!

This means we are overwhelmed, inundated and bombarded with information – the only response is to spread our attention a little more thinly; scanning, skimming, screening and simply ignoring, many of the messages and inputs we receive.

We can easily feel that because we have so much information available to us, we’re also obliged to have an opinion about just about everything . . . But having spent relatively little time reading, checking and digesting the facts, we risk having only a superficial understanding of an issue, but of course, once we’ve committed to ‘an opinion’ it can be hard for us to change our minds – no matter what new information we subsequently encounter.

Very often we’re faced with ideas or opinions in opposition – wind turbines: good or bad, gay marriage: good or bad, nuclear power: good or bad, more austerity: good or bad ?

It’s as if we’re being encouraged to ignore any subtleties or complexity and simply choose a side and cheer our team on.

And is everything that is presented to us as fact really true ? No, clearly not. Truth is interspersed with lies, mistakes, approximations, previously truth, wishful thinking, urban myth, selective facts, one-sided arguments, emotional blackmail, smears on the messenger and any number of other things. It’s not that things aren’t checkable, it’s just that there’s too much checking to do, and mostly we don’t bother.

This is the ‘post-fact’ battleground of the various wars of ideas being fought out for our support .

Two examples caught my attention over the last few weeks: climate change (again), and the overseas aid budget (also again).

The Guardian published a piece titled Don’t Give Climate Heretics a Chance. It broadly argues that as most climate skeptics are not climate scientists we should be less willing to listen to their views, and goes as far as proposing some kind of ‘certification scheme’ for use of accurate climate facts in articles and reporting.

Much as I share the frustration of the author, Jay Griffiths (an author and English graduate – if that matters to you), with inaccurate and misleading representations of science being presented on an equal basis to peer reviewed articles and research, surely the answer isn’t some kind of ‘ministry of truth kitemark’ on all published opinions ?

The real problem is the absence of a single recognised and accepted authority on climate change science – our information age has democratised truth, we’re all free to choose our own authority, and believe their pronouncements: whether it’s James Delingpole, in the red corner, or  almost all the World’s scientists in the blue.

Until someone develops an online truth filter, we’ll just have to rely on our common sense and judgement.

The other story that caught my eye a few weeks ago was on the front page of the UK newspaper The Express: We Pay For India’s Rocket to Mars. The story, by the journalist Macer Hall, contrasts India’s planned unmaned space mission to Mars, with the UK’s aid contribution, also claiming ‘Anger has been growing since David Cameron pledged to continue increasing the overseas aid budget despite cuts’. Interestingly the article also reports “British aid is not used to fund India’s space programme. Our development aid to India is earmarked for specific purposes like tackling child malnutrition, providing malaria bednets and secondary education for Dalit girls” - which does make the article’s title seem more than a little misleading” ?

I’m a strong supporter of well targeted international aid, and broadly speaking would like the UK to not only maintain it’s overseas aid contribution, but actually increase it. The stories we often see stirring-up resentment and claiming misuse of aid donations are often misleading (as in this case), or even when accurate I would argue the solution is to better target the aid involved, rather than to cut it, an alternate ‘solution’ to the problem of ‘bad aid’ I rarely see offered in certain sections of the press.

If you want to see how divisive these kind of issues and debates have now become, you simply have to scroll down through the comments below each story – wading through the abuse, self-righteousness, hostility and rage of the full-on Troll Warfare ! Online debating doesn’t seem to be constrained by any of the social niceties we observe in the real world.

So what the answer ?

Clearly I’m not saying don’t have opinions . . . but do have a couple of suggestions:

Firstly, we should all be a little more critical and questioning of pretty much everything we read – whether we’re naturally inclined to support or oppose them. The world is a complicated place, and things are rarely back and white, we should delve a little more deeply into what we see and hear, resisting the temptations of polarisation. . . . in other words we should be smart.

Secondly, and just as importantly, we should have the modesty to sometimes profess a little less certainty about our own opinions – accepting we rarely are so expert to have considered all the full facts in detail. We should try to listen respectfully to the opinions of others, and be willing to accept new evidence, if it seems reliable, even if it goes against our previously held views. . . in other words we should be nice.

I believe it is important for those of us seeking to sway opinion and make a positive difference in the world to engage in the ‘war of ideas’ – but we won’t get anywhere by being trolls about it !


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Photo by Cali4Beach, via Flickr

Meet Bilaal Rajan

When he was four years old Bilaal Rajan saw coverage of an earthquake in India on the news, and with his parents’ support he went door to door selling oranges, raising over $350 to support those affected.

Since then Bilaal has gone on to become increasingly involved in charitable and humanitarian work – personally raising over $100,000 for various causes, before in 2004 launching the Kids Canada Earthquake Challenge, and raising over $1.8 million for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Bilaal has since been involved with a project building a school for orphans in Ecuador, and founded the Barefoot Challenge, encouraging children worldwide to go without shoes for a period, to better understand the difficulties faced by children in many developing countries.

Bilaal has met with Nelson Mandella, Archbishop Tutu, and has addressed numerous conferences and gatherings. His book Making Change, Tips from a Underage Overachiever, was published in 2008.

Still aged only 15, he fits his humanitarian work in between his continuing schooling in Ontario, Canada.


Photo from Wikicommons

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Next Starfish and Me

A guest post by Lee, an Environmental Health Officer.

I wanted to contribute to Next Starfish again. I’ve written a guest post previously, a technical contribution and in considering a topic for a second post I wanted to discuss something more personal, something life improving. In the end I’ve decided to write about how and why Next Starfish has affected me.

I guess I have always been into improving my own happiness, it’s a basic human aim, right? But it’s how I’ve changed going about this that I wanted to write about.

In 2008 my father passed away, not long after I landed my then ‘ideal’ job – a senior position within a multi-national consultancy earning a considerable wage. Since 2008, life has changed a lot for me. Here’s how.

I used to think having money solved pretty much everything, and my career ambitions lay primarily in how large my monthly pay cheque was. Whilst money does not necessarily solve all problems, a lack of it can certainly can create a few.

I have always had enough money to live very well. I haven’t always gotten exactly what I wanted, but always had what I needed, and as I mature, I’ve also tried to make decisions to ensure one day, when I have a family, they will also have a little of what they want as well as what they need.

But, the loss of my father in 2008 suddenly rendered financial comfort much more irrelevant for me. I suppose it marked the change from living my life as if it were guaranteed, to making sure that ‘I sucked the marrow out of life’ to coin a phrase from one of my favourite films, Dead Poets Society.

I now have much less interest in possessions. I still have a nice house* in a nice area where I enjoy living, a bike and a pair of trainers – that’s pretty much all I want. (*Somewhere decent to live is important -you have to have a sanctuary somewhere. In my job I often see people struggling in poor living conditions and they’re not good for people. People having to live in fear, not sleeping well due to their surroundings, or in conditions which cause ill health shouldn’t be acceptable to society).

I now spend more money buying experiences and enjoying time with my friends, than on possessions.

A bit more about me – I’m pretty sporty, and live for and love the great outdoors. I really do ! My best times have all been sporting times, and the best relationships I have are with sporting mates. I value the mates more than the medals, and the socialising more than the training. But a lot of what makes us great mates is the hardship of training and competing. When you’ve completed another 20 hours of training in a week, and raced to within an inch of your life, you bond well because you have hurt yourself for the benefit of the crew or team.  That relationship is never lost. The respect earned never fades. The trust is never dented. So, what is it I really enjoy . . . money, no. Medals, yeah maybe. Great friendships. . . bingo !

I’ve also had some experience with the Armed Forces – it fits in with my ‘mates and outdoors’ mantra. I remember one night, on exercise in Catterick, with the rain pouring and the wind howling, if I could have been anywhere other than there, then, I would. But after putting up our home for the night (a Gore-text sheet strapped to four trees), my mate had made me a cup of tea containing dirt and grass but I will guarantee you that no one could have derived as much joy from a caffeine drink than me at that exact moment. A simple pleasure shared with friends.

Am I very different to most people ? I don’t think so. We’re all social animals. I am a big believer in organisations: sporting, artistic, educational, agricultural or whatever. I think these clubs, especially with a structured hierarchy are as important to our social growth as schools or our family. Next Starfish suggested the film Into the Wild to me. The quote from that film that stays with me is ‘Happiness is only real when shared’. I certainly believe that. Is a great view as great if you’re on your own ? Is a good joke as funny if you laugh alone to it ?

The last 4 years have been a roller coaster – a very fast one at times, and one that’s certainly had some highs and lows at times !! But the ride has set a better perspective for me. I look forward to future now through very different eyes.

Now, my calendar is more full of stuff that my flat is. I enjoy talking and debating with friends more than buying ‘stuff’ and given the ‘stuff’ my attention. I know I should also do more for society, and want to find something I can do and commit to, to best use my skills. I also want to put some of my money to use for those who really need it. I want to see it making a difference, and am currently thinking how best to go about this – I hope to let you know what I decide to do through Next Starfish.

I’m still one of the richest people in the world. Not just  right now, but that has ever existed. The chances are, as you’re reading this, so are you.

Can I can distribute some of this money as well as my time ? I’m lucky enough to be educated and can also put that to use, influencing and lobbying – perhaps for better housing and living conditions for those less well off. That’s my passion, and it all helps.

A lot of what we see and read is designed to make us part with money. Newspaper headlines are aimed at making us buy, and do it through shock headlines that often play to our worst fears. How many people would buy a newspaper if the front page said ‘Things in the UK quite good’ ? For me Next Starfish challenges ‘the rules’ a bit, talks about another way to live. Some people might even say it is an ‘alternative’ lifestyle. But the messages and articles have struck a chord with me. If these messages could outweigh the marketing messages . . . well, I’ll help spread the word anyway as they’ve helped me.

I still keep up with the Jones’ – but the Jones’ are people who laugh and smile rather than own everything.

Photo by David Ashford, via Flickr 

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Meet Razia Jan

Afghan born Razia Jan moved to Duxbury, Massachusetts in 1970, where she ran a small tailoring business, and served as President of the town’s Rotary Club. Following the September 11th attacks, she arranged to send 400 home made blankets to the Ground Zero rescue workers and went on to organise the sending of 30,000 pairs of shoes to Afghan children.

Razia then set up the Ray of Hope Foundation, raising money to build a school for girls in Afghanistan, and in 2008 moved back there to run the school.

Razia and the school have faced numerous difficulties and threats, the same day it opened another girls school in Kabul was attacked with hand grenades, killing 100 of the girls.

Before her school opened Razia was visited by four men who gave her ‘one last chance to change this school into a boys’ school, because the backbone of Afghanistan are our boys,’ to which she replied ‘Excuse me. The women are the eyesight of Afghanistan, and unfortunately you all are blind. And I really want to give you some sight.’

Winner of numerous Rotary Peace Prizes, and now nominated as a CNN Hero, Razia and her staff continue to provide education to girls in Afghanistan, hopeful of creating a more equal society and a better future – one girl at a time.


Photo from The Ray of Hope Foundation

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