The European Commission is presenting a set of rules that rightly applied are meant to make the movement called “the Right To Repair” come alive. As we all know there tends to be a built-in obsolescence to the electronics and other products we buy. These rules are meant to combat this by making products easier to repair. So often glue is used when screws could make the repair doable. We all have the experience of problems with printers, computers, phones, and the like and it is cheaper to buy a new one rather than have the old fixed. But so much waste is not good for the environment nor for the use of the earth’s resources. The European Commission is mainly concerned with the European Union, but manufacturers will not be making products for the EU alone, so despite Brexit the regulations will have to also apply to products bought in the UK. Indeed the BBC reports many repair workshops springing up in several UK cities. While the repair movement may not be as visible in the US, it is gaining momentum since the same logic applies, manufacturers will not be making one product for the EU and one for the US. The regulations go further than certain guidelines for manufacturing products, they include packaging in a more environmentally friendly way and in one that can also eliminate waste. And to all this we can all say Yeah!!
Mongolia has a problem, partly due to our increased demand for cashmere and partly due to climate change. Since it became a democracy in 1990 the number of cashmere producing goats has soared from 9000 in 1999 to 27,000 in 2020. These goats need grazing and certain climactic conditions have affected how much land there is to graze on to the point where 70% of the land is now overgrazed. The goats are taken care of by 1.2 million nomadic herders which make up 40% of the nation’s population and not only is their livelihood in danger as a result so is the economy of the country. Mongolia is the world’s second producer of cashmere after China, representing a fifth of global supply and it is the country’s third largest export after copper and gold. Now as the world’s demand for cashmere keeps rising, climate change is accelerating the need for more land to graze on. Temperatures in Mongolia have risen 2 degrees Celsius, more than the world’s average, turning a quarter of the country’s lands into desert, obviously exacerbating the problem with grazing .
What touches me about this story is how our actions, our needs, our preferences, have an effect on the nomadic herders of Mongolia. You can say it’s oblique, indirect, that other factors may be more relevant, marketing, or modern transportation systems, to name but two, but it still comes down to our penchant for the softness of cashmere. And as I think about it, it reminds me of the interconnectedness of the human family and the oneness of humanity. I hope it will for you too.
Being a displaced person must be a bit easier than being stateless but is nevertheless one of the most difficult positions in the world to be in. If they’re lucky displaced persons end up in camps, themselves difficult places to be. Now the government of Iraq has ordered several camps to close which means some 100,000 displaced persons will now also be homeless. Winter being near and coronavirus make the situation even worse. At least a million people were displaced when the Islamic State lost control of its Iraqi territories some 3 years ago. These are the people who ended up in the camps now being closed. They’re expected to return to their former homes whether or not they want to or those homes still exist. In addition, some may be penalized for having a family member suspected of being affiliated with the Islamic State or having a name similar to one who is on the Islamic State members list. Some refugee organizations have objected to the camps’ closing but the Iraqi government has not responded. And what makes this story even more notable is how little coverage it has received.
Two new books have recently come out about the difficulties endured by displaced persons after WWII, including those who were rescued from concentration camps, in finding a country that would have them. Then it was mainly Jews. Now it is mainly Moslems whether in the Middle East or the Uighurs in China, the Rohingyas in Myanmar. Add too the recent fleeing of some 200,000 Ethiopians to nearby Sudan. But no matter where it happens, the story is the same, unwanted people being driven out or needing to flee because of politics and religion. Even the countries willing to accept some displaced persons only accept very few. In the post war case, many ended up in the then Palestine, fighting for what became the state of Israel. There is no Palestine equivalent today, which does not lessen the problem and certainly not the moral issue underlying it. It’s time we begin asking, what do we—as members of humanity—owe displaced persons?
The pandemic brought lockdown. The lockdown brought a different soundscape. In cities throughout the world regular sounds are absent and in some like San Francisco, one can hear birds. Stuart Fowkes a UK based artist has been mapping the sounds of cities since 2014. He’s trying to map sounds all over the world and noticed that one thing lockdown brought out were sounds like church bells which were no longer lost in other city sounds. They could now be more noticed. To Fowkes so many sounds have been lost to noise pollution. In fact the World Health Organization thinks of noise pollution as an environmental stressor and a public health risk. On an everyday level we may not be aware of how sounds affect us, but they do. The vibrations hit our senses as well as our bodies, and usually result in a reaction from not only our physical bodies, but also our emotional ones. Sound pollution is so much part of urban life that we forget to notice its impact. Traffic of course, delivery trucks, ambulances, other sirens, revving motors, blaring music.. each bearable by themselves perhaps, but when added to the others affect us in ways we forget to recognize much less acknowledge. It’s not hard to see that sound pollution does stress us and that stress on an ongoing basis can be a health risk. Fowkes now has more than 4000 recordings of sounds from 100 countries, and was planning to issue a report last March. When Covid 19 hit he began recording those sounds, or their absence, and incorporated those recordings into The Future Cities Project so that we will not only know what cities sounded like before the virus, but also now. Whatever Fowkes’ reasons for undertaking that project, how sound affects us is something we ought to think about. Some sounds can make us relax, and some interfere with what we feel and even more with our thought processes. And for those of us who are also sensitive to what is transcendent, being aware of sounds and their effects upon us is certainly a must.