Category Archives: Denmark

Denmark Peace and Justice Conference Connects Activism Against Poverty, Pollution and War

Most people in the West think of Denmark as a tolerant, peace-loving country, even—according to Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump—as a socialist country. Trump views this as a disease to be excised, and avoided in the US at all costs, while Sanders sees this as an ideal for America.

The truth is far from these tales. Denmark runs on a solidly capitalist economy, and it has been at war against all the countries the US has invaded since Iraq in 1990. Its troops remain in Afghanistan and Iraq; and its planes bombed Syria not long ago. The various governments have cut back the social network of “free” education and healthcare to the bare bones in the last decade. The elderly, for instance, who cannot bathe themselves, must wait up to seven weeks before a social welfare assistant can come to wash them and clean house, and must do so in the few minutes strictly allotted. (See my series, ”Scandinavia on the Skids: The Failure of Social Democracy”.)

There are a few, quiet progressive or radical groupings in Denmark, no peace movement, but a burgeoning climate movement. Yet one alternative institution, Tvind, tries to influence people in Denmark, throughout Europe and in some “third world” countries to be activists and teachers of activism. Tvind started in 1970 (see sidebar below) and for the past five years has sponsored an international Peace and Justice Conference.

One of the unusual aspects of Tvind, at its schools, residences and conferences, is that no alcohol or any drugs are allowed. I was there four days and never did anyone, not even the 20-30 year-old majority, speak of any need for these normal crutches, and they danced after all the work until after midnight stone sober. Maybe they got their energy from a sense of fulfilling togetherness and the delicious vegetarian-ecological food they prepared for two dozen students and another 150 people, who came to the conference from Denmark and a dozen more European countries east and west, a handful from India, Africa and Latin America.

This year’s conference took place in mid-May for three days. The kick-off speech dealt with “the Russian ‘peace threat’”, other global perspectives, and how to resist; how to bring the deadly and polluting institution of militarism and its wars into the consciousness and the agenda of those opposing climate change. Previous conference themes had dealt with how to stop wars not refugees; to transform from militarism to conflict resolution and peace; and no justice no peace.

”A culture of peace will be achieved when citizens of the world understand global problems, have the skills to resolve conflict constructively; know and live by international standards of human rights; gender and racial equality; appreciate cultural diversity; and respect the diversity of the earth. Such learning cannot be achieved without intentional sustained and systematic education for peace,” read the invitation.

This year’s program included over 30 workshops, half-a-dozen key speeches, music, a theater piece, artwork, poems, sports and networking. Workshop topics included: fighting with the poor; humanity in action in India; youth in climate action with refugees in Europe; movements for change in the USA; the difference between what the US government tells us about why it wages war and what the real reasons are; war and ecocide; songs for peace; pedagogy of liberation; what is going on in Venezuela; perspectives for our future, and how to take part of creating one.

Making music together with Italian musician Paolo Rossetti

Hans Blix-Noam Chomsky did not attend but Blix was interviewed for the conference, and a Democracy for Now interview with Chomsky was viewed. Blix was the UN’s chief investigator sent to Iraq in 2002-3 to find out if the government had “weapons of mass destruction,” the excuse that President George Bush used to invade it. In 2004, Blix stated that, “there were about 700 inspections, and in no case did we find weapons of mass destruction.” Nevertheless, “let’s kick ass” Bush set up the “coalition of the willing” to destroy much of Iraq and murder over one million people. The Danish government declared war on Iraq to please the US—the only country to actually declare war. While Blix is a man of the Swedish Establishment, a strong supporter of capitalism, EU and nuclear energy, and Chomsky is a rebel anarchist, the two agreed that the greatest threats and challenges to humanity are: climate change and the growing possibility of a nuclear war. Blix said that the former is slow suicide; the latter is quick suicide. The doomsday clock stands at two minutes to midnight, the first time since it did during the Cuba missile crisis, in 1962.

Trine Wendelboe is a Dane who moved to Dowagiac, Michigan 13 years ago. She directs research and development at the One World Center connected to Tvind. This small town is headquarters for the Pokagon band of Potawatomi Indians. The center aims to take action against worldwide poverty and climate change.  Wendelboe spoke of the growing poverty and anxiety overwhelming Americans, and about some of the movements resisting the disasters people confront.

The closing workshop and last speech were held by the Dutch transformation coach and Camino Real guide Gert-Jan van Hoon. Along with young DNS teachers Nadezda and Justas they asked how participants can stick together, how do they not get “blown away”, in order to heal the soul and Mother Earth.

Gert and open future workshop at Tvind’s Peace and Justice conference

I spoke with a dozen participants about what the conference had meant to them. Some were DNS students, a few were in the 10-month international development volunteer program, and some had only attended the conference. Here are comments regarding what they got out of it and how they might “not get blown away”.

Annie Wood, an English student in the DNS program, immediately took up planning her first action following the conference—a student strike in the nearby city of Holstebro. This would be part of the Friday For Future movement actions, which began in March with about 1.6 million strikers at 2000 locations on all continents

She had been inspired by her studies at Tvind and by the conference to write a poem, “The Choice”, which she read to the participants. Here are excerpts:

Here’s my first rhyme for the world to hear
written from inspiration about something I hold dear.
To me it makes clear sense and I think it should to you too,
because right now I’m heartbroken, this has got me feeling blue.

We are killing our home, this great big planet earth.
We are plundering, draining and polluting it for everything its worth.
Yes you’ve heard this story before, maybe you’re bored with the same old lines
but if you don’t help make it better, this story will tell the end of our times…

Maybe we don’t know what is right or what we want,
but we should know by now it’s not war but it is provident.
It’s not hate, destruction or poverty.
It is love, peace, justice what brings a happy life to me.

A Danish youth, Lars, heard of Tvind from The Establishment’s prejudiced view that its founders and teachers are authoritarian “brainwashers”. “Strange”, he surmises in typical Danish irony, “I never knew that brainwashing actually could open up hearts as it has done these days. We clearly felt a warm welcome to share our ‘stories’, as they say in America. We did that but most importantly we engaged in enthusiastic discussions one-to-one and in groups what it is that we want and need to do to save this world, to make it better than it is.”

Maxsim, a 22-year old Lithuanian, said, “We are all impressed with one another in that each of us has so much to share that is useful and positive.”

Maxsim had been deluged with a hateful view of Russia so pervasive in his country. But at the conference he heard a different picture of Russia today, one that indicates neither its people nor its leaders wish nor are acting to make war but rather are acting to protect their sovereignty and defend themselves against an escalating war threat from the US/NATO.

Mariana is a college student from Portugal studying management. She won a free week-long trip to Tvind to help prepare the conference. “These days have shown me that I am not content with becoming a manager for capitalism. I have to find something else for my future, some kind of education that can lead to a job that people actually need. I don’t know what but it shall come.”

Jette, a retired nurse and amateur illustrator, felt it was “lovely to see that people actually looked at one another and smiled or spoke a few words together as they passed by, instead of what we are used to here that one looks away from one another when passing by. And then such a pleasure to see how effective everyone is in doing their tasks while also so willing to play.”

Yusef is a 22-year old Kurdish refugee from Syria who looks ten years older. His parents fled the war-torn land first and made it to Denmark. Yosef was homeless for a time, hungry, on the run. He came to Denmark five years ago, and now lives with his parents.

One summer three years ago, Yusef wanted to do something useful, to participate in a summer camp. A camp at Tvind was among the choices his social worker showed him, something unusual for government paid workers to do.

Yusef said that he, “fell in love with the place and I’ve come here three years in a row now—to the camp and to this conference. I’ve learned a lot especially at this one. As a teenager, I had joined some demonstrations against Assad. I thought it was cool, you know. But I saw that the opposition was brutal too, and some of them were/are being supported by the US. One of the issues that we Kurds had was that we couldn’t automatically get government work when we graduated from universities with degrees, say, in medicine but Arabs could. Otherwise, we also had free education and health care. Shortly after demonstrations began in 2011, Assad agreed to change the rules so we could get government paid work. I realized after a while and since being here, that we were, and are being used and misused by the Americans and all the media hysteria. I now regret that I took part in demonstrations. Assad is not nearly as bad as he is painted to be.”

Vladimir is a 19-year old Russian, offspring of South Korean parents, living in the Czech Republic where he saw an announcement about this conference. He and I worked together in the kitchen one morning, two persons from two entirely different worlds and one four times the age of the other.

Vladimir is shy and not much for words but he opened a bit in our talk. “It is new for me to see people embrace one another and to work together. People here are not thinking so much about themselves. They are not selfish but thinking about the environment, about humanity and the planet.

“I’ve decided to join the ten-month traveling-learning-teaching program. I’ll be back to prepare for the African program, to open new horizons.”

*****

Sidebar: About Tvind

Tvind started (1970) near Ulfborg village (2000 pop.) on Denmark’s west coast by the North Sea. A small group of young teachers settled there to live collectively and with a shared economy. They sought to become pioneers in social development, education and with sustainable environmental projects. Today, there are hundreds of members in the “Teacher’s Group” in several countries.

The first task was to build living quarters, mainly from prefabricated wooden buildings. They dug foundations and made water and sewage systems. They bought and repaired ten buses, which would be used to travel to other countries to learn and teach.

The “Teacher’s Group” developed an educational system based on the concept of a rural collective and a travelling school. They expanded internationally becoming a global people’s corporation.

On September 1, 1972, 100 youth—ten young teachers and 90 students—created a four-year training program to become teachers in primary and secondary schools. This program is called the Necessary Teaching Training College (DNS in Danish letters).

DNS was started from a “necessity to train another kind of teachers to bring more relevant knowledge, mobilization and life to children.”

The times were a-changing but the Establishment and its schools were not. There were pressing issues and contradictions, such as the growing inequality between rich and poor, which were not on the agenda of society’s schools.

DNS became an international program. Today most students at Tvind are from many European countries. There are few from Denmark since the state has refused to support studies at Tvind financially following allegations of tax evasion and misuse of funds by former leaders—a matter still pending. Clearly Tvind/DNS are as controversial today as they were half-a-century ago.

In 1996, Tvind started an international network “Humana People to People”. Humana assists people to lift themselves out of poverty. During a ten-month program, international volunteers learn and work with poor people to learn new skills to farm organically, using windmill energy, assuring clean water, building solar water pump and solar light systems, producing jatropha seed oil for biodiesel energy and animal feed, building homes, and establishing mini-loans for self-employment especially for women. Another aspect is planting tens of millions of trees.

Humana programs exist in the Caribbean, India, Malawi, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Zambia. One form of financing these activities is the UFF—development aid from people to people—which collects used clothing that is sold to support Humana projects.

With a DNS bachelor monograph graduates (now over 1000) can become teachers at some schools in a few countries; take jobs with UN aid programs; work with the poor in many countries. Their notion is that the battle for the future of humanity is, “the fight of the poor against the three sisters of capitalism: free trade, free enterprise, freedom of endless profiteering.”

Tvind in Ulfborg also has a care center for people with special needs, a day school, and a school for youth with special needs and others who seek an alternative education—all supported by the local municipality. Students, other than those in the day school, live on campus. The DNS students also live there. There is a second school in Denmark, One World Center at Lindersvold.

The “Teachers Groups” has three other schools in England, Norway and Michigan, USA using the “determination of modern method”, the pedagogical approach shaped at DNS. This gives the student the main responsibility for training and results. Learning is structured with 50% individual studies, 25% common courses, and 25% personal experiences.

Tvind is renowned for building the first modern windmill (1975-8), the largest in the world at that time (54 meters tall with a 54 meters wingspread). Four hundred people began the construction, and through the years several thousands participated. An estimated 100,000 people visited Tvind to watch the process. When the mill was completed, it had only cost the equivalent of $1 million in today’s value—paid for out of Tvind teachers’ salaries.

Tvindkraft (windmill’s name) offered the designs and ideas to any and all, but the state didn’t want them because it was committed to going with nuclear energy. Nevertheless, the Danish people soon rejected this idea, in part because Tvind showed that windmill energy was possible, cheaper and much better for the environment. Tvindkraft is the basis for all of Denmark’s famous windmills.

By 2015, the windmill had produced 20 million kWh. Tvindkraft still provides all the energy Tvind uses. Yet Tvind gets no credit from Denmark’s Establishment since they teach that collective living, common production and sharing is better for people and the environment than capitalism’s greedy foundation.  Nevertheless, in 2008, they won the European Solar Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in renewable energy.

Tvindkraft still standing and functioning 41 years later. Tvind comes from the local dialect word for the surrounding “twisting” brook in that area (Jette Salling Photo)

For All the Bicycles in Denmark


Of ghost bikes and bike lanes.

I grew up on a bicycle. At least once I learned to ride. Somehow or other I didn’t manage to do that until the age of ten. But starting then, the bicycle became the ticket to freedom and independence, as well as another way to appreciate the natural world and get a lot of exercise.

For many people who grew up in suburbs similar to the one I grew up in, what I’m describing will be familiar. Looking at it from this distant vantage point, and back at the time, the reason is and was obvious. It was all about infrastructure. Walking from my suburban home to the town center took an hour or more. I only did that when there was too much snow on the roads for anything with wheels to function. Biking it took a fraction of that time. The nearest video arcade was several miles beyond the town center. Walking there and back would have been a day-long event, but by bike it was just a good little workout.

All of this will be familiar to many. And then what happened next will be, too. At the age of sixteen I got a driver’s license and inherited an ancient Volvo from my parents, which they were passing on to me both out of love and kindness but also because the car was deemed to be no longer reliable enough to use for their interminably long commute from Connecticut to Long Island, which they both had to do multiple times a week. From the time I got that driver’s license and car, I rarely rode a bike.

There are so many forces in the society I grew up in, suburban America, that pushed me and most other teenagers and adults in that direction. With a car it becomes easier to go still further than you could easily do with a bike, and so you do, for lots of very good reasons having to do with important things like getting an education and making money. And there’s the question of your dating prospects and all those other social pressures.

But fundamentally, it comes down to infrastructure. Young teenagers in the suburbs of America often become serious bicycling enthusiasts because the distances they’d need to go by walking are impossible, there’s no mass transit to speak of, and nobody wants to ask their parents for rides all the time if they can help it, for a whole variety of different reasons. Once they’re driving cars, however, the whole equation changes. Now they can really participate in the society, as it has been designed to function — by car.

And it’s not just the distances people often need to go that is the main problem here with infrastructure. It’s not just “how it is” in a sparsely-populated place like so much of the US is. The spreading out of the population, in the way it spread out, were choices made by people and urban planners, governments and corporations.

Still we are fed on a steady diet of the mantra that we are personally responsible for the climate crisis and we have to do things like eat less meat and ride bicycles more. We are told this in so many ways, from early childhood. But despite all the propaganda, in the most bicycling cities in the US, the percentage of people commuting to work by bike on a regular basis is in the low single digits. Contrast that with cities like Copenhagen or Amsterdam, where it’s the majority who is getting around by bicycle or mass transit.

Is it something peculiar to the Danish or Dutch psyche that makes their entire societies as bicycle-obsessed as your average suburban American teenager? Or is there something else at work here? Obviously, it’s once again about infrastructure, laws, what’s easy, what’s possible. Denmark and the Netherlands being flat countries of course is hugely influential in this, let’s not minimize that. But there are many other flat parts of the world that do not have a dominant bicycle culture going on, such as most of the American midwest. In Denmark, on the other hand, it’s prohibitively expensive to own a car or fill its tank with gas, while bike lanes are everywhere, and they’re all full of people of all ages riding in them.

You’re also not risking your life by taking a bike ride. Here in Portland I see new ghost bikes cropping up everywhere — white-painted bicycles that friends of those killed while riding a bicycle often put up in their memory, and to serve as a statement. The statement can be many things to many people — it can focus on the individual responsibility of the drivers not to text and drive, not to drink and drive, etc., and/or it can put the spotlight on the need for better, safer infrastructure, like real bike lanes, tunnels, and bridges.

Meanwhile there are cities in Scandinavia that have achieved zero annual traffic fatalities of any kind. They have done this not by relying on humans not to make human errors, but by creating infrastructure that makes a fatal accident very difficult to have. In Copenhagen, for a driver to hit a bicyclist, they generally first have to drive through a line of parked cars that separate the car lane from the bicycle lane. It is not a matter of crossing an imaginary line represented by some faded paint job they’re calling a bike lane, such as at least 99% of the so-called bike lanes in the United States, in my conservative estimate.

The UK, incidentally, is just as bad for bicycling as the US, with no real attention having been paid to this form of transit in the development of the infrastructure of the country. So the idea of Extinction Rebellion activists being slandered by the mayor of London and most of the British media for tying up not only car traffic but mass transit as well, on the basis that if they really cared about the environment they wouldn’t cause problems for commuters on the Underground, is a lot like someone saying because 2+2=4 and using the Underground saves petrol, using the Underground is the solution to the climate crisis. It’s very elementary school logic that falls apart immediately upon inspection, but it is totally mainstream logic, from Saddiq Khan to the BBC, and it is pernicious.

London and other British cities are ecological disasters with industrial-era infrastructure that is crying out for radical transformation of the sort that only massive government re-prioritization of values and massive infrastructure investments can hope to deal with — as is very much the case in the cities of the US and many other countries. Only after spending so much time in Denmark did I come to realize to what a tremendous extent it is all about infrastructure, and the priorities of a democratically-run society. Danish democracy has been controlled by active bicycle-riders for a long time, with bicycle infrastructure spending being a significant part of the national budget every year since around the time I was born, and what has been achieved is obvious.

Telling people to ride their bikes more often in places like London, Glasgow, New York City or Chicago is like inviting people to die early deaths from either getting hit by a car or breathing the air made so foul by the dominance of the private car for the functioning of these societies as they are. Telling people to ride their bikes more often in Denmark, well, it’s not necessary. It would seem like a very strange thing to do. How else are you going to get around?

To the stooges of the real estate speculators pretending to be viable political leaders who like to preach about mass transit and social inclusion while they reign over societies where rampant speculation on the real estate market means people are forced to live in further and further suburbs with less and less infrastructure and more and more dependency on the private automobile for their increasingly difficult prospects for survival, we must say no, this stops now, the solution is not your band-aids – it is a total transformation of the physical infrastructure of the society, and serious, effective government regulation of the housing market.

With all respect to those many good friends of mine who are actively striving to make Denmark an even better, more ecological and more inclusive society, it is already an entirely different reality from what we know in places like the UK or the US — including in the supposedly progressive hot spots like Brighton or Seattle or wherever. In fundamental ways, it bears no resemblance.

In Denmark, the question is almost never “shall we ride or drive?” It’s almost always the former. Yes, there are fewer bus routes than there used to be, and this is not the right direction to be going in, but the point is, it’s still nothing like anywhere you’ve probably been, unless you’ve spent time in the Netherlands. These are the societies you get when you create the infrastructure for it. If you don’t create that infrastructure, you don’t get that society. We can do it, too — but first we have to stop deluding ourselves that the way forward involves anything other than society-wide collective action, of the sort that brought Denmark its bike lanes.

Mystery Killer Spans the Globe

Public health experts have been warning for decades that overuse of antibiotics reduces the effectiveness of drugs that cure bacterial infections. At least 2,000,000 Americans get antibiotic-resistant infections per year.

Notably, gluttonous overuse of antimicrobial drugs to combat bacteria and fungi via hospitals, clinics, and farms is backfiring and producing superbugs or “Nightmare Bacteria,” which is especially lethal for people with compromised immune systems and autoimmune disorders that use steroids to suppress bodily defenses.

Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) recently labeled a fungus called Candida auris or C auris an “Urgent Threat.” This Nightmare Bacteria is a brutal killer that’s unstoppable and flat-out travels fast.

The CDC claims antibiotic resistance is “one of the biggest public health challenges of our time.”

According to the World Health Organization: “The world is facing an antibiotic apocalypse.”

The UK’s chief medical officer believes antimicrobial resistance: “May spell the end of modern medicine,” as routine surgeries turn into medical emergencies.

In short, new antibiotic resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading worldwide, quickly. Knowledgeable sources worry that society at large is headed for a “Post-Antibiotic Era,” in which common infections and minor injuries can kill once again.1

According to a recent British governmental study, without new medicines and without curbing unnecessary use of antimicrobial drugs, infections followed by ensuing deaths will likely eclipse cancer deaths over succeeding decades. The harsh fact is nearly one-half of patients that contract C auris die within 90 days.2

Nowadays, the dangers of “Nightmare Bacteria” are growing out of control. The latest concern is that C auris will begin spreading to healthier populations, even though healthy people are normally not at risk. Within only five years, C auris has established itself as one of the world’s most intractable health threats. It is drug-resistant, tenacious and nearly impossible to exterminate and travels the globe looking for innocent victims, killing people mostly in hospital settings.

C auris has already established a beachhead in Venezuela, Spain, the UK, India, Pakistan, South Africa, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. Nobody knows where else it may be cloaking.

A British hospital aerosolized hydrogen peroxide in a C auris-infected room for one week solid. Subsequently, only one organism grew back in a Petri dish in the room. It was C auris. The hospital serves wealthy patients from Europe and the Middle East, and it has not made a public announcement of the outbreak.

An outbreak of C auris at a Spanish hospital resulted in 41% deaths of infected patients. The hospital has not made a public announcement of the outbreak.

In the U.S., the Brooklyn branch of Mount Sinai Hospital had a case of C auris with an older man hospitalized for abdominal surgery.

According to a New York Times article:

The man at Mount Sinai died after 90 days in the hospital, but C auris did not. Tests showed it was everywhere in his room, so invasive that the hospital needed special cleaning equipment and had to rip out some of the ceiling and floor tiles to eradicate it… C auris is so tenacious, in part, because it is impervious to major antifungal medications, making it a new example of one of the world’s most intractable health threats: the rise of drug-resistant infections.3

Indeed, Mount Sinai’s public exposure is an exception, as hospitals and governmental agencies keep C auris’s whereabouts secret. Public transparency is shunned. Hospitals and local governments are reluctant to disclose outbreaks because of concern about tarnishing reputations and spreading of rumors. Even the Center for Disease Control is not allowed, in a pact with states, to publicly announce outbreaks.

There are multiple causes behind antibiotic-resistant infection outbreaks. As for one, using antifungals on crops to prevent rotting, in turn, contributes to drug-resistant fungi infecting people. Also, infamously, antibiotics are widely used (in fact, overused-by-a-country-mile) for disease prevention of farm animals.

Indeed, researchers estimate that up to 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to healthy food animals to artificially expedite their growth and compensate for the effects of unsanitary farm conditions. This routine use of antibiotics in animals presents a serious and growing threat to human health because it creates new strains of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.4

Furthermore, and of serious deliberate interest, Denmark is testament to what occurs by restricting non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in cattle, broiler chickens, and swine. Following Denmark’s restrictions, the use of antibiotics for swine dropped 50% from 1992-2008. Results: (1) swine production increased by nearly 50% and (2) antibiotic resistance in humans decreased.

By way of contrast, in the United States up to 70% of antibiotics go to farm animals that are not sick.

One pressing issue is no new classes of antibiotics have been invented for decades. In fact, all the antibiotics brought to the market in the past 30 years have been variations on existing drugs discovered by 1984, meaning they are just follow-up compounds, without a novel mechanism of action, meaning no major breakthroughs.

Problematically, only a few large drug companies are involved in antibiotic research and development because the cost of developing the drugs is high and profit margins are slim. In that regard, according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy: The antibiotic pipeline is near collapse, and the country needs to act now to preserve the infrastructure to support antibiotic research and development.

Pew Charitable Trust/Antibiotic Resistance Project is trying to muster public support for the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA, H.R. 1587/S. 619), which withdraws from animal production use of seven classes of antibiotics vitally important to human health, unless animals are diseased or drug companies can prove that their use does not harm human health.

Other groups in support of legislation include the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatricians, Infectious Diseases Society of America and World Health Organization.

In a letter to congressional leaders February 5, 2019 The Pew Charitable Trusts, Infectious Diseases Society of America, and Trust for America’s Health, together with U.S. antibiotic developers large and small, called on Congress to move swiftly to enact a package of economic incentives to reinvigorate the stagnant pipeline of antibiotics.

A number of sponsors for congressional action are urging concerned citizens to call their representatives and senators and push for action on this life-or-death issue.

  1. WHO Fact Sheet on Antibiotic Resistance, November 2017.
  2. Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming.
  3. New York Times, “Deadly Germs, Lost Cures: A Mysterious Infection, Spanning the Globe in a Climate of Secrecy”, April 7, 2019.
  4. How Much Do Antibiotics Used on the Farm Contribute to the Spread of Resistant Bacteria?” Scientific American magazine.

Denmark’s PM Admires a Killing Soldier’s Simplistic View of Good and Evil

Denmark’s PM admires a killing soldier’s simplistic view of good and evil

It’s Friday, April 5, 2019, at 9 PM. An entertaining talk show, Skavlan. A dialogue between a prime minister and a special forces soldier who has no regret having kicked in doors and “killed a lot” in Afghanistan.

He justifies himself by the most primitive and long-ago debunked theory about Good and Evil in this world. And then the listening prime minister expresses his admiration.

Something roamed around in my mind hours after the event and I had to check: Did he really say what I think I heard?

It made me think about theories and worldviews on which political decisions can be founded. About the general, normalized fascination of war and killing, and about the soldier as hero and the victim as invisible, non-existent.

It made me think about the sophisticated, almost imperceptible, media methods by which perpetrators of law violations and war crimes are turned (and turn themselves) into victims and perform smoothly as part of a Friday night’s entertainment program.

And, finally, how a similar conversation about alternatives – about nonviolent peace-making – would appear irrelevant, unthinkable. There is no peace discourse today. War is peace given our “Zeitgeist”.

As far as I know, nobody has publicly expressed the view that this conversation was disturbing. I find that highly disturbing. Too.

Setting the stage and sitting on the stage

I had seen that the Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, would participate in the serious and entertaining Swedish Television talk show Skavlan.

The Norwegian journalist, Fredrik Skavlan, is the host and interviewer. He is super professional, a good listener, makes people feel good and he has obviously done his research homework before meeting his, mostly famous, guests face-to-face. He lets them talk and does not see it as his task to challenge them, at least not politically.

According to Skavlan’s Facebook page, the talk show is one of Europe’s largest with around 2 million viewers per show.

Danish Prime Minister, Løkke Rasmussen listens to Ant Middleton in the Skavlan program


The Danish prime minister, Løkke Rasmussen, is responsible for Denmark’s recent bombings in both Iraq and Syria. His party isn’t new to warfare. His party colleague, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, was the Danish PM responsible for Denmark’s role as an occupying power in Iraq 2003-2007.

Fogh Rasmussen (they are not related) was then rewarded for this participation in aggression on a sovereign state without any UN mandate and became NATO’s Secretary-General.

In that role, he will be remembered for leading the Alliance’s destruction of Libya in 2011. There was a UN mandate about setting up a No-Fly Zone but not for the destruction of large parts of the country and the killing of its leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

Well, no guilt by association intended, but I had no expectations that Løkke Rasmussen that would say anything independent-minded, meaningful or critical about war as such.

Another participant in this program was Ant (Anthony) Middleton, a British Special Forces soldier who – evidently – is proud of having kicked in lots of doors in Afghanistan and killed a lot of people seemingly without the slightest remorse (see below).

Ant Middleton – who smiled a lot during the conversation


A quick search of the net tells that Anthony Middleton is a celebrity thanks to having been Chief Instructor for British Channel 4’s hit show ‘SAS : Who Dares Wins’. SAS stand for the Special Air Service of the British Army and the program slogan – Who Dares Wins – is also the slogan of SAS.

In other words, this is Channel 4’s contribution to promotes SAS whose activities around the world are basically top classified and probably not always lawful, noble or moral.

He is in the limelight thanks to just having published his autobiography and at the moment is on the “Mind Over Muscle Tour” around Britain.1

You’ll be able to see the sequence with Ant Middleton and the Danish PM (in English) here until October 2, 2019.

And with this, the stage is set.

The conversation

Now listen to the conversation which I have written down sentence by sentence from the program. Because the program is not available after October 2, I have written the essential passages here. Thus, 4:30 minutes into the clip:

“Skavlan to Middleton: How many have you killed?

Middleton: I’ve taken a lot of lives but what I do remember is not necessarily the people I have killed because – I’m the first man in, I’ve done three tours in Afghanistan and I am kicking down doors on a daily basis, we’re hunting down Taliban commanders. It’s – you know, the list goes on.

But what I do remember is not pulling the trigger. What people must remember is that my job is to conserve life, to save life. I only take life when there is a level of evil that’s been surpassed or I am in an immediate threat or my pals are in immediate danger to life. But what I do remember is being there and I could have taken a shot and every time it just wasn’t right, I took my finger off the trigger. Those are the times I do remember.

Skavlan: Do you think about the fact that you’ve killed a lot of people that is someone’s father, you’re a father of five yourself?

Middleton: No, no, not at all. Like I said, there is goodness and there is evil in this world. I’m a good man and I know that. And, as I said, if you surpass a certain threshold of evil, you do not deserve to be walking this planet, and that’s how I saw it. I never saw it – again it was never personal. I never saw it as this was someone’s… you know…Listen! If you live by the sword, you must expect to die by the sword. You know, it’s again… taking extreme ownership of yourself, holding yourself accountable.

Skavlan: But of course, there are casualties that are less guilty of being evil. Have you experienced that?

Middleton: (Pausing)…. It comes with the territory. It’s part and parcel of conflict. It’s part and parcel of being in a combat zone. And don’t get me wrong, there are bullies with weapons out there.

Skavlan then turns to the Danish PM: You’re the man behind the desk. Because the war he’s talking about is our war too, or has been. I wonder how you reflect on that, how hard a decision to send someone – you mentioned it before Ant came in.

Løkke Rasmussen (speaking to Middleton, not Skavlan): Well, first of all, I admire your attitude. And I totally agree with the way you distinguish between good and evil. But, you know, this is for real and as I mentioned earlier on, we have had 43 casualties in Afghanistan and I have been writing all those letters myself, and each time I have done so, I have felt the — (can’t seem to find the words) — it’s very personal. It’s not just for fun.

Middleton: We train our whole life to do that. I wanted that fight at the highest order. I trained my whole career to fight and when it came, it’s like you allow me to do my job. You know, there is the other side, of course there is the other side and it’s traumatic but…

Skavlan to Middleton: But you are sent by someone behind a desk that you never met?

Middleton: Yes but if they didn’t send me, they would not be allowing me to do my job and….

Løkke Rasmussen: Yes, and I realise that and without going into details, I have been in situations where our Special Forces have asked permission to do something on the ground where we have made the assessment that this would not happen…

Middleton: (smiling) I understand that…

Løkke Rasmussen: And when I have met those people later on and on a more private basis, they have actually been more or less angry with me: Why didn’t you approve? Why did you not give your permission? So…

Skavlan to Middleton: This is the situation you’ve been in…?

Middleton: Yeah, and if you did not use us, you would have just as much up war as if you didn’t. I suppose you can’t get it right?! I love my job. I prioritize it over my family and my children. I am not proud of that but I did it. I was waiting for that call. I wanted to be the first man through that door. You know, use me! You’ve spent millions on training me…

Skavlan: You were 16 when you joined the army. What was the push factor and what was the pull factor?

Middleton: I joined the army because I was a very self-sufficient young man, you know, who always wanted to stand on my own two feet. I always wanted to do my own thing and I always loved the challenge.

I’m an extreme doer. And, you know, I’m not an intellectual, I’m not a bookworm. I do, do, do… and 9 out of 10, I’ve failed and learned from that, so the military was just appealing and to get away, do my own thing, get a roof over my head, be fed, and you know the little bit of money I got I could start to build my life the way I wanted to. It wasn’t ”I’m going in and have this amazing career in the Special Forces.

It was, like you know, it was me as a youngster, let me stand on my own two feet, let me hold myself accountable for my life and see where it takes me. And the stepping stones… I’m good at what I have done and I love extreme soldiering, you know I was a para, then a Marine, then a sniper, then an (intelligence?) operator and the natural progression was into the United Kingdom’s Special Forces.”

What is actually stated here?

  1. There is good and evil in this world. The two are separated and the good people are on one side, the evil people on the other. It does not occur to Middleton, or the Danish PM, that there could be good and evil people on both sides. Or that each individual actor could have good and evil sides – that can be activated depending, for instance, on what the person experiences from the outside.
  2. Evil does not have to be defined, but it can be graduated. Over a certain level, it is right to not only try to stop the evildoer but to kill him. Over that level, the evildoer does not have a right to walk on earth.
  3. The judge that decides when that level is reached, is – he himself, the killer. So, it’s about the killer who does good and does justice by eradicating evil.
  4. Evil and good are qualities of human beings, not for example of situations, structures, or history and traumas.
  5. Although Middleton admits, indeed has no problems talking about, that he has killed a lot, he says that he knows he is a good person. And that goodness does not include any consideration for the humanity of the one he kills; it’s irrelevant to the argument and the deed whether the opponent is a father of children like Middleton himself is.
  6. Middleton mentions no particular, say ideological, reason for his participation in warfare, but emphasizes more than once during the program that he couldn’t wait to get off to Afghanistan, do what he was trained for; he doesn’t want to be stopped in carrying out his killing mission and – essentially – it is all about him doing his own thing, as he says, and loving the challenge.
  7. What is not stated is things like these: having a problem with having killed a lot; a sense of regret, guilt feeling or a wish for forgiveness or reconciliation. This assumption is backed up by the fact that, postwar, he has gone into public activities and entertainment media in which his military experiences come to good use. He has, to put it crudely, become a hero, a celebrity mass killer actor and lecturer.

Why is this really disturbing?

Probably, Middleton is only unique because of the almost charming, smiling and totally emotionless ways he is coping with his killing. Few, if any, go through such situations and kill a lot without having to cope with the fact that, in spite of all, they took life.

When returning from the killing fields, many feel alienated, feel that nobody understand what they have been through (which is true), and sooner or later, take to drugs, alcohol, or the radical way out – committing suicide. Very few become celebrity stars with huge audiences.

One may find Middleton’s witness account and his obvious denial of any wrongdoing rather disturbing. I do – but on the other hand, I have been working in war zones and met perpetrators as well as victims. Few have the moral fiber to go through years of psycho-social soul-searching and healing and ask forgiveness.

Most veterans are also hidden away, are never integrated in society and if they are received as heroes when coming home that status fades before dawn. Governments and societies usually don’t want to be reminded of such things.

No, I must admit that what disturbs me – for real, to quote him – is that PM Løkke Rasmussen’s bluntly admires Middleton’s attitude and also totally agrees with the good/evil dichotomy.

Løkke Rasmussen probably has less need for a psychological cover-up than has Middleton. But he anyhow subscribes to a theory that is as outdated and simplifying in the extreme and which has been academically debunked decades ago.

It’s also a theory which – when applied in the political realm – is sheer colonialist/racist: We (white/men/Westerners/Christians) are good people, those we kill – particularly abroad and particularly in Muslim countries – are evil: they are less white, mostly men but morally weaker, inferior, non-Westerners and Islam(ists). (Note that the word Christian-ist doesn’t exist – for a reason: Christianity shall not be connected with terrorism; Islam borders on – or is – terrorism; an evil religion. Thus Islamists.

If a prime minister knew as little about theories and concepts in fields such as economy, social welfare, or ideology – s/he would be facing a barrage of criticism. And there would be commentators and editorial writers who would shout at him: How can you say such things?!

Now it is only about war and peace, about “primitive” Afghans and those out there who threaten our ways of life. And it is about Denmark’s blindly loyal US-framed foreign and security politics and in those fields no special, scholarly competence is needed.

One thing is that such a conversation can take place in public, based on a stone-age theory, in the year 2019. Quite another is that it happens in front of tens of thousands of viewers and no one raises and eyebrow. I find that disturbing, very very disturbing.

It speaks volumes about the pervasive peace and conflict illiteracy of our culture and our times. It speaks volumes about the military and other hardline monopoly on the politically correct thinking about war and peace. And what sort of primitive thinking underlies everything called war, never challenged in the mainstream media and no longer even by the so-called Left.

It ought not be possible for educated people to speak on television the way prime minister Løkke Rasmussen and special forces soldier Middleton did and not causing an outcry.

The perpetrator as victim

In programs like Skavlan and in virtually all programs with news about events in the world, we never see simultaneously the perpetrator of violence with the victim of violence.

In this edition of Skavlan, we saw two different perpetrators of violence – the victims – those deserving to be killed – were not represented and had no voice. The conflict in Afghanistan was given no background except the implicit one: it’s filled with evil people and we have a right to find them, kick in their doors and kill them. They should not walk on this earth.

Ant Middleton did not seem to feel pity for himself. But, in the exchange with Løkke Rasmussen, he seems to see himself as a potential victim, namely if he had not been sent and had not been allowed to perform his killing job. If someone in the audience had shouted “You are not as good a man as you think you are” – he would probably have felt like a victim.

Løkke Rasmussen, the man behind the desk who gives orders and sends Danes into warzones, quickly avoids Skavlan’s questions and starts talking about how hard it is for him to personally write those letters to the families of Danish young boys who have been killed.

He may not be aware of it but his answer comes across as “Look how difficult my situation is!” – and he even states in as some kind of self-defence that war is “for real” and “not for fun.”

Their more or less explicit appeal for sympathy, for us empathising with them and their good intentions – well, does not touch me in the slightest. They could, at any moment in the past, have decided to stop being perpetrators of violence. Stopped being directly and indirectly responsible for taking lives. They made their choice.

Imagine instead: “I’ve raped a lot”

Imagine this conversation was not about war and peace. Imagine it was about rape, pedophilia, or inappropriate male behaviour vis-a-vis women – topical issues today and issues where there is a considerable political correctness and ever narrowing comfort zones.

Imagine an individual sitting in an entertainment TV program – but meaningful, serious such – and stating without flinching that he has no regrets about the boys and girls and female colleagues he had molested or raped and that he doesn’t even remember them.

Imagine that he also considered himself a good man and thought that those he had molested did somehow not deserve to walk in this planet. And you found out that, afterwards, this ‘good’ man had become a celebrity in the entertainment and lecturing world.

An intellectual counter argument to this imagined parallel example could surely be: But the teacher and his victims were not in conflict, it was not a mortally dangerous confrontation of “you or me”. And I’d say – “true, fair enough – but!”

Today’s discussions are about individuals feeling hurt, disturbed. The use of violence is limited to individuals and, as we all know, easily ends up on the front page of, say, New York Times, particularly if the involved parties are exactly that – famous, celebrities. It’s usually not about what I would call a worse offence, namely killing.

Warfare, in sharp contrast, is about a system of organised killing – mass killing of people “we” have no relations to. Strangers.

In the case of Afghanistan, it’s about the world’s militarily strongest countries that have fought a war in a small country for now 18 years. It about thousands of lives – if not in some cases and over time – millions of lives lost and whole societies destroyed.

It’s a system managed by huge state powers and profit-seeking corporations, think tanks and more – what President Eisenhower warned the Americans and the world about as far back as 1961.

And it is a cultural phenomenon: It’s about fighting those you look down upon, those who are morally or otherwise perceived as inferior, unworthy, living at a lower civilisational level than “we”.

Wars and killing in other lands are based on such assumptions – on demonization and de-humanization of entire nations and religions. And on the Middleton/Løkke Rasmussen “theory” that they are all evil out there and we have a right to be in their country, kick in thousands of poor people’s doors and kill this evil scum of the earth because we are good people.

Both types – the close personal and far anonymous, collective mass violence – deserves to be problematized. But he more people and media focus on the close personal hurt and harm, the less energy is left for addressing the larger world’s.

Or imagine this from a this thought-provoking angle…

Imagine Mr. Middleton had kicked in tons of doors in houses belonging to Jews, say in illegal settlement areas on occupied territory, and had “killed a lot” of Jews showing no regrets, just doing his job?

Imagine a Danish prime minister stating thoughtlessly that he admired such action and totally agreed with the theory that evil Jews deserved to be killed and not walk on this planet.

In lieu of a conclusion: The new militarism that we need to talk about in informed, intelligent ways

Over the last few decades, war has become so integrated into and intertwined with civil society that it has become normal, acceptable and legitimate. That’s what militarism is about.

Militarism was once about flags, parades, uniforms and song, it was about arming men (since then, weapon systems are manned and then made increasingly un-manned like drones). It was about some kind of rule-based dueling and honour. No more so!

Today’s militarism is about the melting into one the civil and the military spheres of society: the civilianization of the military and a militarization of the civil society. Civil society permeated by the ethos of killing, killing of them – the inferior – Evils in order to preserve us, the superior Goods. Killing for good.

I may be wrong. I have studied these things the last 45 years and there is, I gladly admit, a lot of books I have not read and many conflict and war zones I have not worked in. Be this as it may:

If you think I am wrong, let’s do what is still possible: Dialogue and learn from each other! Write your comments below, stimulate others to join that vitally important debate. But please…

Do not tell me that there is not something wrong deep down, that we are not far out, when such values, ethics and worldviews as those presented by two public figures in Skavlan do not raise eyebrows and provoke debates.

Do not tell me that we have kept decency and humanity intact and that we do right when we discuss individual cases of violence and remain, simultaneously, totally ignorant and illiterate about our own system of mass killing and the assumptions and theories that underpin them.

And, please, if the issue of globalised violence and war – as well as lost opportunities to make the world more peaceful and safe for all before it is too late – is not worth a wide and much more informed global conversation, tell me what is.

  1. Learn more about him on his homepage and on Wikipedia.

Before the Flood



I am, it might reasonably be said, a climate refugee – though a very comfortable one. Escaping the forest fires to run a little cafe in Denmark is hardly a sacrifice. But if the cafe might be a good retirement plan for me, it won’t be for my children – far too soon, the whole country in which Cafe Hellebaek is located will likely be underwater.

There is something so powerful about gazing into the distance over a large body of water.  Especially when you know that water is connected to all the other water in the world’s oceans.  It’s a most thought-provoking experience.

This little village on Oresund, the inlet separating Denmark from Sweden, is a place I keep coming back to.  The reason is because my friends here, people I’ve now known for many years, live here, in a bit of an unconventional situation.  Where they live, and where I stay most of the time when I’m in Denmark, used to be a castle.  The castle burned down and was replaced by a police training academy.  When that later closed, it was purchased by my friends, who ran a school there for many years.  Now there’s no more school, and the buildings are used for many other purposes, mostly involving the act of caring for others in one form or another — whether it’s looking after troubled youth, leasing space for the local municipality to house refugees, or training volunteers to do development work in Angola and other countries around the world.

One of the aspects of touring in places where I don’t live, but visit often, is I see reality in snapshot form.  I meet the baby who is a toddler only a couple visits later.  I see a woman who used to come to my gigs anytime I’d play in Copenhagen when she was a teenager.  Now she’s in her thirties and is a member of the Danish parliament.  A lot happens in between visits.

One thing that happens is the middle-aged people get old, and the old people die.  It’s very systematic, I’ve noticed over the years, and there are no exceptions to this rule.  The middle-aged people who stay healthy often become very active old people, as active as ever, until they’re not, anymore, and they slow down, and eventually die.  Such was the case with my friend Lars-Peter.  I met Lars-Peter and Mette when they came to a concert I was part of, a tribute to Pete Seeger in Copenhagen.  Lars-Peter was a founding member of the particular strain of the folk school movement that became known as Tvind in the 1960’s.  Mette came in later, as a teenage windmill-builder in the 1970’s.

I’ve mentioned the story of the windmill in a previous weekly missive, as well as in a song I wrote about it.  It’s an incredible story.  When Mette was a teenager and Lars-Peter was a young man, they and hundreds of others, with the support in one form or another of thousands more, built the biggest windmill that had ever been built, and then proceeded to give away the patents for it so others could do the same.  It’s a story not only of scientific breakthroughs and engineering brilliance, but of collective action of the most profound and impactful sort.  The windmill they built, Tvindkraft, is still running and providing electricity in the town of Ulfborg, in western Denmark.  Far more significantly, though, this windmill became the model for industrial-scale windmills, and essentially gave birth to one of the biggest industries in Denmark — windmill-building.

Lars-Peter was one of the best storytellers I ever met.  I wish I had recorded any of his stories.  He died of leukemia, and in his last couple years had very little energy.  But when he could get out of bed, he could still be in great storytelling form until close to the end.  In his role as headmaster of a school that educated kids by taking them in buses from Denmark to India and back on a regular basis, Lars-Peter saw the world in ways that very, very few people get to do.  And when he did most of his traveling, it was in countries that were experiencing massive popular movements and, in several cases, revolutions.  Pick a country in Africa or the Middle East, Lars-Peter had lived there and seen or participated in world-historic events in it.  (It’s me saying this, not him — he was far too humble a person to make such claims himself.)

Of course there are others of Lars-Peter’s generation still going strong, but the writing is on the wall.  As I sit here in this little cafe beside the water that I’ll be helping to run this weekend and for most of this summer, which is part of the property the old school is on, I often think of Lars-Peter’s stories of the 1960’s around the world, and also of Mette’s wonderful tales of her experiences a bit later in the evolution of the Tvind folk school movement, when in the 1970’s she and others decided to build the windmill that changed the world.  (There’s a crash course in mechanical engineering, if ever there was one.)

And then, unavoidably, my thoughts drift back to the present — and to the future.   A couple Fridays ago I was hearing a news story about Greta Thunberg, about how she and other students have been skipping school every Friday to protest against their government and other governments failing to address the climate crisis with the level of commitment that would be required to actually really do something about it.

I texted my 13-year-old daughter, Leila, asking her what she was up to.  I don’t normally text Leila on a Friday morning, since she usually has her phone off while she’s in school, but I had a hunch.  What are you up to, I asked.  She wrote me back right away with a picture of herself and some of her friends as they were marching across the Burnside Bridge, walking the two miles or so from their middle school to the other side of the river, downtown, where City Hall is located.

Hundreds of kids skipped school that day in Portland, and in many countries in Europe the numbers were much higher.  On this visit to Denmark — my first since last autumn — I have discovered that the Extinction Rebellion meme has taken root among many young people here.  I gave a couple young folks a ride from Odense to Copenhagen recently.  One of them has spent a lot of time in the struggle against the giant coal mine devouring the Hambach Forest in Germany.  The other one was often making statements along the lines of, it seems so hard to feel engaged with this topic — whatever the topic may be, as long as it doesn’t relate to the climate crisis — when in our lifetimes this whole country will be underwater.

Every time he said something like that it was obvious he really meant it — this was not an intellectual exercise for him at all.  I tend to get really animated whenever I’m talking about anything that I’m remotely interested in, whether it’s related to war and peace, rent control, worker’s cooperatives, collective action, music, food, sex or whatever.  But in the face of the coming flood, it’s easy to see how such passion about things other than the climate crisis can seem a bit misplaced.  It can seem, even, like a form of denial.

I dropped my riders off in Copenhagen, where I was meeting up with a couple of friends — Elona, who was moving from one apartment to another, and Ask, who was helping her move, along with me and my unexpectedly gigantic rental car.  Ask builds boats of the most wild description, the kinds of structures that you’ve never seen before and will always remember, if you see one in the water.  He’s an expert welder and designer, but what motivates him the most is the desire to do something about the climate crisis, using his boat projects as educational tools in various ways.

He was telling  me about his latest efforts, and I was telling him about my plans to run this cafe.  You’re a climate refugee, he informed me.  I hadn’t thought of it quite like that before.  I pay rent in an apartment in Portland, Oregon, I support my family, I have work, no one is threatening my life as far as I know, the city I live in has a low crime rate, and Trump has not yet started rounding up the Left and sending us to camps.  But, as I told Ask, one of the reasons I’m so keen to run this cafe is not only because I love Denmark, which I do, but because in recent years Portland has been home to the world’s worst air, on some days beating Beijing and New Delhi in that grim competition.  The main cause is the forest fires, which are getting bigger every summer, occasionally destroying whole cities, burning hotter than ever, with faster winds than ever — all climate crisis stuff, though there are many other factors involved.

I mentioned Ask’s climate refugee comment to my friend, Kamala.  I’m not sure the term refugee is appropriate, I said.  Temporarily displaced person, perhaps? she suggested.  Thinking more about it I realized the term “climate refugee” is perfectly appropriate.  As anyone knows who has followed the refugee crises in the Middle East or Latin America today, the first people to get out of a bad situation are those with the most ability to do so — the ones with friends and relatives in other countries, who are usually also the ones with good jobs, dual citizenship, and very useful things like that.  We don’t think of these people as refugees as readily as we think of those who had no options but to board leaky boats in the Mediterranean or walk across the Sonoran Desert.  But they’re all refugees, regardless of whether they were able to escape by means of a commercial flight, a valid passport, and a nice apartment in Denmark, or by raft or on foot, with only the shirts on their backs.

Either way, being a climate refugee in Denmark is profoundly ironic.  Why?  Because according to more and more widely accepted projections of what is likely to happen over the course of the next several decades, after all of the ice melts, there will be no more Denmark.  The entire country will be submerged, along with the Netherlands, northern Germany, most of the eastern seaboard of the US, and so many other parts of the world.  If I do end up moving with my family to Denmark to escape the world’s most toxic air, we can be fairly certain that we will become refugees again, running next time not from fire, but from flood.

Welcome to Cafe Hellebaek.  Come let me make you a drink, before the flood that will likely destroy it sooner or later.  The generation that built the world’s biggest windmill might not be around to see the country sink, but Ask’s generation likely will.  My hope is that those who will be living through this century’s impending global cataclysms might have some brilliant new ideas for how we might navigate the waters that are rising around us, after the windmill-builders are all gone.

My hope is that people like Ask, my children and others likely to still be around at the other end of this century will still be able to sit in a cafe, sipping a hot drink and looking out at the water — wherever that cafe or that water may be, however much the flood line rises.

Blowing the Whistle in 1943

Being a writer of weekly columns and topical songs, these things are supposed to be at least somewhat temporary in nature. But whether it’s a podcast from last summer or a song I wrote a decade ago, change one or two words and it could have been written yesterday. To mention a few subjects I have addressed in recent months that refuse to fade into recent history: child separations at the border are once again in the news for a number of reasons, including corruption charges against the biggest for-profit child detention facility in the US; politicians and pundits continue to find supposedly new reasons to refer to Jeremy Corbyn, Ilhan Omar and the Gilets Jaune as anti-Semitic, despite all the accusations being self-evidently baseless; there has been yet another massacre in Gaza carried out by Israeli snipers, who are now as of this week being charged by the UN for war crimes; there has been a further dramatic escalation in the far right’s efforts to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Venezuela; the War on Refugees continues in the form of the 2020 Wall Budget Debate; and Chelsea Manning is back in jail, this time for refusing to testify to what is known as a grand jury.

To refresh our memories, what Private Manning was originally imprisoned for blowing the whistle on were things like the US use of torture and the commission of other war crimes such as a massacre of journalists and children by helicopter gunship. For exposing war crimes, Chelsea was not given an award or a promotion, she was called a traitor and many other things and given a very long prison sentence, eventually commuted by the last president just before he left office. Other people have blown the whistle on other crimes committed by our government and other governments, and for their good work they have been similarly rewarded, and some accidentally-released legal documents indicate that Julian Assange is completely justified in fearing that the US government is seeking his extradition and imprisonment, because they are. If not for the quick actions of Wikileaks and the Russian government back in 2013, Edward Snowden would be facing the same. (The hatred of these heroic whistle-blowers among the ranks of the US Congress has been largely bipartisan, it should be noted.)

Hearing about the re-arrest of Chelsea Manning and other developments that continually reinforce the general feeling that we are in the midst of a rapid descent into full-fledged fascism obviously inspires a lot of historical comparisons, especially among people who are apt to make such comparisons with very little provocation. As it happens, the particular village where I’m heading to at the end of this month invites more of the same comparisons.

For the first week of April and for most of July and August I’ll be running a very small cafe in Denmark — most of that time with my wife, Reiko, and our three kids. (Our toddler, Yuta, is already becoming a very good barista, practicing daily on his favorite toy, our home espresso machine.) I don’t know how old the building thirty meters from Øresund is that houses the cafe, but it has a traditional straw roof, and it was built at a time that the average Dane was a lot shorter than today. Standing up inside this cafe is only possible in certain spots if you’re an American male of average height (like I am). If this little building could tell stories, it would have a lot to say.

It directly faces the inlet that separates Denmark from Sweden. Cafe Hellebaek is named after the little fairy tale Danish village of Hellebaek in which it lies, on the line — and the road and bike path — separating the forested hills from the sea. For centuries, this part of Denmark was the front line in the Danish crown’s unceasing efforts to re-take contested parts of Sweden on the other side of the inlet. It was the longest war in recorded history, according to my friend Kristian Svensson, a Swedish songwriter, playwright and historian. (I learned a lot of other interesting random pieces of information from touring with Kristian.)

It’s been quite a while since there has been conflict between Sweden and Denmark. But in more relatively recent times, the little coastal village was witness to drama of the global-historic variety, particularly during a week spanning the end of September and beginning of October, 1943. Hellebaek would be one of three main villages that would be the launching points for the thousands of Danish Jews who would be successfully saved from imminent deportation and given asylum in Sweden, which, unlike Denmark, was not then suddenly under direct administration by Nazi occupiers.

These were not a matter of fake accusations of anti-Semitism back then. This was far, far too real. A phenomenon that had little history within the Muslim world prior to the twentieth century, but has been a major aspect characterizing European Christendom for over a millennia, culminating with the mechanized genocide carried out by the Nazis and their collaborators throughout Europe.

There were other forms of official anti-Semitism as well — for example, in Roosevelt’s America.

In 1943 the official policy of the US towards Jewish or other refugees from Germany or eastern Europe was to deny them visas or send them back. Perhaps not for the same reasons, Sweden was also wary of taking in such refugees. The Swedish policy changed on October 2nd, 1943, and this change was announced on the radio publicly, which was a crucial element of the whole operation actually taking place and working.

The overwhelming success of the operation was a testament to many things — to the bravery and efficiency of the Danish underground resistance movement; to the solidarity of the Danish people with their fellow Danes, whether they be Jewish or communist; to the fact that most of the German military was busy being defeated at Stalingrad; to the fact that Øresund is very narrow; and in no small part, to the principled actions of a Nazi Party whistle-blower named Georg Duckwitz.

As with Chelsea Manning, Georg Duckwitz was serving a regime that was actively committing crimes against humanity that differed in detail and in scale but in both cases involved things like invading countries based on false pretexts, overthrowing democracies, supporting and imposing dictatorships, immense corporate profiteering, millions of dead, millions of refugees, with entire countries, entire societies, laid to waste.

As with Chelsea Manning, Georg Duckwitz could no longer bear to be a cog in this machine of genocide, regardless of how direct or indirect his involvement was with the worst of the crimes being committed in the name of his blood and soil. Duckwitz’s moment to make a difference came when he learned of plans from Berlin to begin rounding up all the Jews they could find in Denmark. Obviously risking his life and liberty, Georg Duckwitz informed the chief rabbi of Denmark and on false pretenses he flew to Stockholm to inform the Swedish crown and to beseech them to accept Jewish refugees.

The chief rabbi informed the Danish resistance movement, and with a clear plan in place due to the public broadcast from Sweden, the fishermen, innkeepers and other regular Danish people did the rest.

No one informed Duckwitz’s Nazi colleagues of what he had done. The diplomat returned to his duties, an unnoticed hero, until long after the end of the war. When the role he played in the rescue of the Danish Jews was realized, he received appropriate recognition and a couple of awards — not prison time, accusations of treason and presidential death threats.

Unfortunately for Chelsea Manning, this is the USA in 2019, not occupied Denmark in 1943. But it’s important to recall more optimistic historical moments than the present one.

Public Space and the Bicycle: Copenhagenizing Cities

Indian cities are in crisis. Spend any length of time in a large city there and you will notice the overcrowding, the power and water shortages and, during monsoon, the streets that transform into stinking, litter-strewn rivers. At times, these cities can be almost unbearable to live in. Little wonder then that the concept of ‘smart cities’ is taking hold among policy makers, however flawed the notion might seem to be.

And, not least, of course, there is the horrendous traffic chaos and congestion, the choking pollution and the increasing number of massive concrete flyovers: monstrosities that have taken their place among numerous other planning disasters that blight so many Indian cities.

A couple of years back, Delhi introduced an ‘odd-even’ traffic policy whereby vehicles with certain registration numbers were allowed on the road only on designated days to try to cut down on traffic congestion and pollution. But this failed to solve the underlying problem that stems from a model of ‘development’ that associates a (wholly unnecessary) push for urbanisation and car ownership with progress.

Despite the problems, the greater the urban sprawl and the more road building that takes place, the happier are the real estate, construction and car manufacturing sectors. That’s not idle speculation: the documentary How Big Oil Conquered the World describes how the car and oil industry criminally conspired to undermine public transport systems in US cities to get the population and urban planners hooked on the car.

As long as urban planners prioritise the car and wrong-headed notions of ‘development’ governed by powerful players continue, Indian cities will not only sprawl ever outwards and be defined by traffic congestion and air and noise pollution, but residents will experience an ever-worsening decline in their quality of life and increasing dependency on motorized transport.

Indian planners might wish to take note of a recent New York Times article which highlighted that Los Angeles has decided against adding lanes to a freeway. Although Andre Gorz noted this back in 1973, policy makers are waking up to the fact that building extra lanes merely means more cars, more pollution and journey times increasing. As soon as you build a highway or add lanes to a freeway, cars show up to fill the available capacity (known as induced traffic demand).

This induced demand imposes costs on us all in terms of degraded public space and serious health risks (recent research shows that a congestion charge in Stockholm reduced pollution and sharply cut asthma attacks in children).

Just as some countries are now realising the folly of widening and building ever more roads and jamming cities with cars, Indian planners carry on regardless by blighting the urban landscape with ever more huge concrete flyovers and expressways snaking across cities and dividing and destroying communities.

Smart thinking

A day before Delhi implemented the second phase of its ‘odd-even’ vehicle policy, the city announced it wanted to support the construction of more roads to solve congestion by enhancing road capacity via new roads, road widening, elevated corridors, flyovers and underpasses.

One would have thought that smart cities call for smart thinking. Not so in Delhi.

If there is one city that seems to be on the right track, it is Copenhagen. The city believes that cycling should be the foundation for sustainable transport strategies and is key to making cities clean, green and liveable. Copenhagen’s urban transport solution gives space to cars but more importantly to bicycles, pedestrians and public transport.

Back in the early 1970s, Copenhagen was just as traffic-clogged as anywhere. Now it has around 400 km of cycle paths. The city’s 2017 Annual Bicycle Report confirms that cycling is the preferred mode of transport for the city’s inhabitants. Each day, some 62% of Copenhageners use their bikes to go to work or school/college.

Copenhagen has in recent years been voted the ‘best city for cyclists’ and the ‘world’s most liveable city’. Throughout the world, there is now a desire to improve public health and combat climate change. As a result, Copenhagen’s renowned cycle-friendly policies are serving as a template for some of the world’s most congested cities.

Aside from health and environmental considerations, an effective urban transport policy should be democratic. Unlike cars, even the poorest segments of society can gain access to a bicycle. The bicycle is indeed democratic, not just for those who cycle but also for the rest of the population who are too often impacted by planning blight, pollution and the colonisation of urban space as a result of planning that privileges car users ahead of everyone else.

However, the bicycle is only truly democratic when spatial segregation is limited and bike lanes and appropriate cycle-friendly infrastructure exist to properly connect all areas. Inspired by Copenhagen, Mexico City’s bicycle strategy is attempting to address this issue through a comprehensive cycle path network, which aims to create mobility through areas that have been closed off due to previous planning strategies.

The arrogance of space

For cities to fully embrace the bicycle, city planners must stop thinking like motorists or capitulating to powerful lobby groups and plan for the needs of cyclists. In Denmark, for example, the Copenhagen-Albertslund route is the first of a planned network that will comprise 26 Cycle Super Highways, covering a total of 300 km. The network is predicted to reduce public expenditure by €40.3 million annually thanks to improved health.

Consider that in Europe 50% of most city land is dedicated to streets and roads, parking, service stations, driveways, signals and traffic signs. And yet the average European car is parked for 92% of the time. Of the other 8% of time, 1.5% is spent looking for a parking space, 1% in congestion and just 5% is spent driving. There are 30,000 deaths per year on European roads and four times as many disabling injuries. Consider too that an average European car has five seats but carries 1.5 persons per journey.

In Copenhagen, city planners tend to give an adequate proportion of road space to cyclists: proper cycle lanes with curbs that separate cycling space from car space; cycle lanes that are usually also sufficiently wide. After all, why should cars hog so much road space when the majority of road users are cyclists?

In the article ‘The Arrogance of Space’, it says:

We have a tendency to give cities human character traits when we describe them. It’s a friendly city. A dynamic city. A boring city. Perhaps then a city can be arrogant. Arrogant, for example, with its distribution of space.

For too long the arrogance of car-obsessed urban planners has degraded our health and our quality of life. But when you have good-quality public transport and the opportunity to cycle thanks to appropriate infrastructure, there is no need to hand over excess space to cars and produce endless concrete sprawl for car parks.

Walk (or cycle) around Copenhagen and you will immediately appreciate there is much less traffic noise and pollution compared with other cities. It is indeed a spatially friendly and a compact city – and a less “arrogant city”. It is also less hectic and more tranquil than many other cities and – taking things even further – arguably more community-oriented.

The slow life

Of course, community-oriented living isn’t just due to transport strategies, although Andre Gorz said that to love your place or space, it must first of all be made liveable, not trafficable. He went on to state that the neighbourhood or community should be shaped by and for all human activities, “where people can work, live, relax, learn, communicate, and knock about, and which they manage together as the place of their life in common.”

In Copenhagen, the municipality encourages outdoor living by offering open-access communal table tennis tables, basketball facilities, well thought out kids’ parks, landscaped parkland and lakes. Even during cold weather, Copenhageners congregate on the streets and in the parks to socialise and embrace the concept of ‘hygge’, probably best defined as: a conscious appreciation, a certain slowness, and the ability to recognise and enjoy the present. Get to know the city and you will soon realise that hygge isn’t just a cliché.

The key word in that definition is ‘slowness’ because from there we arrive at the concept of ‘slow living’.

Writing in 1973, activist and writer Ivan Illich stated:

The use of the bicycle… allows people to create a new relationship between their life-space and their life-time, between their territory and the pulse of their being, without destroying their inherited balance… In contrast, the accelerating individual capsule [the car] enabled societies to engage in a ritual of progressively paralyzing speed.

Modern culture is an advocate of speed, epitomised by car worship. Cars, speed and high-energy living have become essential facts of life. In the process, our communities have become disjointed and dispersed. We have sacrificed ‘slow living’ – in terms of intimacy, friendship and neighbourliness – for a more impersonal way of accelerated living.

Where would be the need for the car when work, school or healthcare facilities are close by? Less need for ugly flyovers or six lane highways that rip up communities in their path. Getting from A to B would not require a race against the clock on the highway that cuts through a series of localities that are never to be visited, never to be regarded as anything but an inconvenience to be passed through.

Instead, how about an enjoyable walk or cycle ride through an urban environment defined by community and intimacy? An environment free from traffic pollution or noise and where ‘neighbourhood’ has not been deadened and stripped of its neighbourliness, local stores and facilities.

Clearly, many of the problems associated with modern cities are not just due to cars or transport systems. Urban planning and the colonisation of space mirrors capitalism and the needs of powerful corporations.

By focusing on capitalism and how culture reflects the division of labour, Andre Gorz said:

It cuts a person into slices, it cuts our time, our life, into separate slices so that in each one you are a passive consumer at the mercy of the merchants, so that it never occurs to you that work, culture, communication, pleasure, satisfaction of needs, and personal life can and should be one and the same thing: a unified life, sustained by the social fabric of the community.

Although it would be naïve and misguided to think that the bicycle (and cultural change) could transform the social relations of capitalism, it is at least emblematic of a different form of urban planning and smart thinking.

Inequality Social Dysfunction and Misery

Year on year the economic divisions and sub-divisions in the world deepen, and the associated social ills increase: The rich, comfortable, and the very extremely rich keep getting richer, and the rest, well, whilst some may be raised up out of crippling poverty into relative poverty, the majority of people continue to live under a blanket of economic insecurity and largely remain where they are.

Straddling the global ladder of economic and social division sit the Multi-Billionaires (there are now 2,208 billionaires), 42 of whom (down from 61 in 2016), according to a recent report by Oxfam, own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of humanity combined. Together with their lesser cohorts this coterie of Trillionaires sucked up “eighty-two percent of the wealth generated [in the world] last year…while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth.”

The defining challenge of our time

Income and wealth inequality is not simply a monetary issue, it is a complex social crisis that supports and strengthens notions of superiority and inferiority, and was described by President Barak Obama in 2013 as “the defining challenge of our time.”

Today’s obscene levels of inequality are the result of the Neo-Liberal economic system. This extreme form of capitalism took hold first in America and Britain in the early 1980s when Reagan and Thatcher ruled, workers’ rights were trampled on, ‘society’ was a dirty word and community responsibility was abandoned to selfishness and greed. With the aid of the World Bank and the IMF, Neoliberalism swiftly spread throughout the world, polluting life in every city, town and village with its divisive, cruel ideology. Commercialization and competition are key principles and have infiltrated every area of contemporary life; everything and everyone is seen as a commodity, and the size of ones bank account determines the level of health care, education and housing available, as well as one’s access to culture and freedom to travel.

Social injustice is inherent in the system, as is inequality, which is itself a major form of injustice. Inequality strengthens deep-seated social imbalances based on class and social standing, and in a world where everything is classified, commercialized and priced; i.e., attributed value, external wealth and position have become the common criteria for determining the internal worth of a human being. Comparison and imitation follow, individuality is perverted and fear fostered; fear of inadequacy, fear of failure, fear of not being loved, because not ‘deserving’ love, not being able to ‘afford’ love. Resentment, anger and self-loathing are fed, leading to a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and drug and alcohol addiction.

Happiness and inequality

The impact of financial inequality on the health and well being of society has been extensively studied by Richard Wilkinson; British co-author of Spirit Level, Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham. In order to establish national levels of inequality Wilkinson and his team used a benchmark based on how much richer the top 20% is to the bottom 20%: Japan and Scandinavia (Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark) came out most equal, and now, Slovenia and the Czech Republic have moved towards this group. Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Portugal and USA were found to have the greatest levels of inequality, and by some margin. Recent data suggests that Russia, South Africa and Turkey should now be added to the most unequal pile. Germany, Spain and Switzerland sit somewhere in the middle.

Data relating to a range of social issues was examined: The most unequal countries were found to have lower life expectancy than more equal societies, higher infant mortality, many more homicides, larger prison populations (by 10-15 times), applied longer sentences; had higher teenage pregnancies, lower mathematic/literacy levels, more obesity, less social mobility, and, according to The World Value Survey, a great deal less trust. In more equal countries, like Sweden and Norway, around 65% of people trust others, whereas in unequal societies like America a mere 15% admitted to trusting their fellow citizens.

In all areas, countries with high levels of inequality did worse, in many cases much worse, than more equal nations. Mental health, for example, (figures from the World Health Organization): In Japan around 8% of the population suffers from some form of mental health issue, compared to 30% in America. Children are considerably healthier in more equal countries – based on UNICEF’s Index of Child Well-Being – and feel a good deal happier. Wilkinson concludes, “What we’re looking at is general social dysfunction related to inequality. It’s not just one or two things that go wrong, it’s most things.”

Look to Scandinavia

If one of the primary purposes of any socio-economic system is to create environments in which human beings can grow and live happily together, then the nations suffering under the shadow of inequality need to learn from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, which are not just the least unequal, they are also the happiest countries in the world. Throughout Scandinavia public services – education (which is probably the best in the world), health care and housing, are valued, and taxes levied in order to fund them properly; there are greater levels of social justice, this allows for trust to develop, and where there is trust relationships flower. The extremes of staggering wealth and stifling poverty don’t exist as they do in the more unequal parts of the world; social mobility is greater and the dream of betterment more realistic, as Richard Wilkinson says, “if Americans want to live the ‘American dream’ they should go and live in Denmark.”

The first duty of government is to protect the people; this involves not only dealing with terrorism and the like, but requires the development of socio-economic policies that contribute to the creation of a healthy harmonious environment. By supporting extreme inequality (which has been shown to fuel a range of social issues) governments in the more unequal countries are totally failing in this fundamental duty. Politicians, who in many cases rely on big business and wealthy benefactors for their funding, are either blind to, or negligent of, the inherent faults of the current system, and the unhealthy, negative way of life it supports.

The case for fundamental change in the economic order, and a shift away from the destructive values it promotes is becoming irrefutable; however, change occurs only gradually and resistance is great. In the meantime, governments (particularly in the most unequal states) need to acknowledge the connection between the dysfunction and disease within society and their socio-economic methodology, which is literally making people ill, as well and poisoning the natural world. They need to invest properly in public services, address wage differences, ban bonuses, introduce progressive tax reform, and, unlike America and France which are taking retrograde steps by designing tax codes which will fuel inequality, look to the Scandinavian countries and learn from their example.

For too long socio-economic systems have been designed and maintained to cater to the desires and interests of a privileged few, while the majority live inhibited lives under the shadow of financial uncertainty. For harmonious societies to evolve this long-standing injustice needs to be addressed and a degree of balance found. This requires that those whose table is full to overflowing share some of their bounty, so that all may have enough, not excess, enough.

As a wise man has said, “The rich must give up what they want, so that the poor can have what they need.” What the rich and comfortable must give up is greed (another car, another house, more designer clothes, etc.), what the rest need is freedom from economic insecurity and the fear of destitution, freedom from exploitation and dependency; secure, comfortable, and well-designed accommodation, and access to good education, health care and culture. Such essential needs are the rights of all; when made manifest they go a long way towards establishing social justice, and where there is social justice, functional, compassionate communities do evolve, conflict is reduced and collective harmony is cultivated.

An Escalating Afghan Crisis of “Profit” Over “Life”

Surkh Gul with her daughter.

“My family’s water well has dried up,” 18-year-old Surkh Gul said.

“Ours too,” echoed 13-year-old Inaam.

A distressed Surkh Gul lamented: “We have to fetch water from the public well along the main road, but that water is muddy, not fit for drinking. I get bottled water for my two-year-old daughter. At least someone in the family should stay healthy.”

Inaam chipped in: “Fortunately, for now, the water that we fetch from a nearby mosque is clean.”

A U.S. and Afghan Geological Survey of Kabul Basin’s water resources found that about half of the shallow groundwater supply could become dry by 2050 due to declining recharge and stream-flows under projected climate change.

For years, the Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees has also highlighted this water crisis to the Afghan government.

But, the U.S./NATO/Afghanistan coalition and mainstream media have been so occupied with the business of a failed ‘war on terror’ that basic human development and needs are glossed over or ignored.

Because of worsening security, Surkh Gul’s husband and in-laws left Afghanistan to seek asylum in Europe, abandoning her and her daughter in Kabul. Surkh Gul can’t find any job. She stopped schooling when she got married, and though she re-enrolled herself in school this year, she couldn’t attend classes on many days. “I have to take care of my daughter and find some income sewing ‘odds and ends’ for people in the neighbourhood.”

It’s no wonder that on some days she feels like she’s going mad. Sometimes, when she visits us, we can tell she’s stressed and moody: she speaks in edgy bursts, her voice is harsh and her eyes are restless, underlined by tear stains.

Heavy piling and digging for a new well at the rented house Zekerullah stayed in. Photo by Dr Hakim

“Last year, the 28-metre-deep well in the house we rented dried up. The rich landlord hired well-diggers, whose cranes and shafts are everywhere these days. They dug 70 metres below ground to reach the dropping water table,” Zekerullah recounted. As such, Zekerullah had immediately understood the threat which an oil pipeline poses to the water resources of the Standing Rock community. On behalf of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, he sent a video message in solidarity with Standing Rock’s ‘water protectors’. “The oil companies and the U.S. government are just thinking about money,” Zekerullah concluded.

Other than token words, little is being done to address climate change or to save the people of Kabul from running out of a basic requirement of life — water. Instead, to extract profitable minerals like copper, the elite are ready to compromise on water protection.

President Trump had suggested that Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth can be a good justification for the continued U.S. war.  He was in discussion with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, ex- World Bank staff, about this war-mineral business opportunity.

In 2013, the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage and an Afghan resident ‘requested‘ for an investigation of the World Bank’s management, oversight and funding of the copper mine at Mes Aynak just outside Kabul.

Supported by 110,000 Afghan signatories, the ‘requesters’ stated that the World Bank’s negligence “in not ensuring that environmental safeguards are in place, imminently endangers the health of the population living there, the quantity and safety of their water supply and (…) the Kabul River….. The mine will cause “heavy losses’’ to community members and to the culture and history of Afghanistan.

A Panel evaluated the ‘Request’ and concluded that it does not recommend an investigation” of the World Bank.

Mes Aynak is the site of ancient ruins that have been compared to Pompeii. (Photo from the film ‘Saving Mes Aynak’)

We have ample evidence of the lack of transparency and integrity in such enterprise in many parts of the world. In the recently leaked 13.4 million documents called the “Paradise Papers”, Glencore, a huge Anglo-Swiss mining and commodity trading company involved in copper and other mining in conflict-ridden DR Congo,      had made a loan to a corrupt Israeli billionaire middle man with close ties to the DR Congo government, asking him to negotiate for mining rights.

The eyes of potential investors and benefactors, corporations and governments alike, are fixed on ‘profit’, not on the potentially disastrous pollution and depletion of the water supply to Mes Aynak and Kabul residents! This does not auger well for Surkh Gul, Inaam, and the estimated 6 million residents of Kabul.

Crises like these have roots in our capitalistic belief that a ‘bottom-line’ policy of generating ‘profit and growth’, private or government, is good for a country’s economy, and that this would benefit everyone. But math, science, evidence and experience prove that this predatory ‘profit’ is inequitably directed to the pockets of the ‘1%’, many of whom are corrupt, leaving the vast majority of people deprived even of their basic human needs. Such profit is often secured from wars, and from exploiting Mother Earth and Nature. Wars have destroyed many irrigation and water retention systems. Only 2% of Afghanistan is forested, her trees extensively cut down through logging.

Kabul’s life-threatening water crisis will not illicit any action unless we dismantle our oligarchic practices and understand that when fellow human beings like Surkh Gul and Inaam don’t have access to water, each of us will hurt too, if not now, then eventually. We, Mother Nature and the human family, are all related.

We can empathize, just as Inaam did, with villagers in Zambia, whose drinking water, rivers, streams and underground aquifers have been contaminated by a London-listed copper mine. Inaam remembers the photos of turbid water he saw in the nonviolence class at the Borderfree Street Kids School he attends.

Drinking water in a Zambian village contaminated by a copper mine. (Photo by The Guardian)

I asked Inaam why governments and big businesses don’t respond to such images and human tragedies. Inaam answered:  “Because they’re only concerned about their own profit.  They never think for the people.”

I thought, “Don’t I have a responsibility to create a kinder and fairer world for children like Inaam and Surkh Gul’s daughter to live in?”

I fear for the decent survival of Afghans, our Earth and the human family, as we have become so attracted to ‘profit’ that we mistake it for ‘progress’. Such ‘profit and progress’ have no respect for science or life, so it may very well lead to our species’ eventual extinction. Stephen Hawking warns us that we may need to vacate to another planet in the next 100 years. More than 15,000 scientists have warned us that our current ways of living could destroy us.

If our ‘thinking as usual’ and ‘business as usual’ continue, we will leave no historical traces at Mes Aynak or Kabul except for mining and digging machines, in a parched desert of war ruins.

Surkh Gul, her daughter and Inaam will have to flee for their lives, but where to, on our warming and warring Earth?

• All photos by Dr. Hakim Young unless otherwise identified