There are many statues and images of the Supreme Leaders in the Democratic Republic of North Korea, and as a visitor, you must abide by some rules. Breaking these rules will result in life imprisonment, followed by the one-by-one removal of your toes.
As a dissentious foreigner, you’ll want to know why. These are the reasons that you cannot fold an image of a Supreme Leader:
A Supreme Leader’s body is tougher than all of the bodies of the world combined. Folding their image would be disregarding this fact.
A Supreme Leader’s face was chiseled by angels and is sublime. Folding a Supreme Leader’s face would be like folding your Mona Lisa, even though we know that your Mona Lisa is worthless when compared to a picture of a Supreme Leader.
Supreme Leaders are tall and powerful and must not be made shorter by folding their legs.
Every image of a Supreme Leader’s face is a wondrous miracle. Why would you fold a miracle?
Folding the Supreme Leader’s face in unusual ways is a desecration to his peerless beauty. The impudent dog responsible for this image was hunted down and forced to eat his own intestines.
Note: we will take your passport for safe-keeping when you arrive in the Democratic Republic of North Korea, and fold it however we like.
Climate change is one of the biggest threats of our species. Unless we act quickly, there’ll be devastating global consequences.
This article is part of a comprehensive guide on what you can do to help fight global warming. Your contribution counts more than you think — we have incredible strength in numbers, but we’re headed towards oblivion unless we act right now.
This piece focuses on what you can do at work, how you travel, and other miscellaneous suggestions.
Adjust the power settings on your computer
Both Windows and Macs have settings in which your computer will automatically sleep or turn off the monitor after a certain period of inactivity. A University of California study found that office computers are idle 61% of the time¹. That’s a ton of electricity to be saved.
Turn down the brightness
Unless you’re a graphic designer, you probably don’t need to have your monitor’s brightness set to full. A monitor uses double the power when set to the highest setting².
Move closer to work
Commuting is a source of misery for most people. The University of Waterloo in Canada even found a direct link between commute time and well being³. The longer your commute, the more miserable you’ll be, and the more CO2 you’ll be contributing to the atmosphere.
Work from home
Days spent working from home are often incredibly productive, because there’s nobody around to pester you—a selling point when pitching the idea to your manager. You can also wear nothing but your underwear (when working from home, not while pitching). Fewer commutes = less CO2 emissions.
Switch off your computer and monitors at the end of the day
If you’re an office worker, there’s a good chance that you put your computer to sleep at the end of the day, instead of shutting it down. Standby energy is responsible for a ton of annual CO2 released into the Earth’s atmosphere, so turning off your computer and monitors will help to alleviate the problem.
Get a reusable coffee cups
Coffee is the most traded commodity in the world, and for good reason—it’s delicious, and energises us. The polyethylene coating used inside the paper cups themselves means they can’t be recycled, so they end up in gigantic landfill sites. Reusable coffee cups solve this issue, and you can buy some awesome ones.
Don’t print unless you need to
Trees are a formidable weapon in the fight against climate change. The more paper we use, the more trees need to be cut down. Don’t print anything unless you absolutely need to.
Use your car less
It seems obvious—using your car less will reduce the CO2 emissions that you’re releasing into the atmosphere. Opt for a brisk walk instead—there’s tons of mental health benefits from walking, and you’ll get fitter.
Get a more efficient car
Even though you think your gas-guzzling v8 makes you look cool, most people probably think you’re a douche, and compensating for your deep-seated insecurity. Consider trading in your vehicle for something more economical. You’ll be helping to save the planet, and will have more money in the bank.
Service your vehicle
This is a big one — a poorly tuned car can use up to 50% more fuel¹. By regularly servicing your vehicle, you’ll be saving money, and doing your part for the environment. Every 6 months or every 10,000km is the rule of thumb, and make sure you update the little sticker on your windscreen with the date of the service. A six-monthly calendar reminder on your phone is a good idea too.
Get an electric car
If you live in a country whose national grid is not highly dependent on dirty fossil fuels such as coal, buying an electric car is a great way to reduce your CO2 emissions. Hybrids are good too.
Combine your trips
Multiple errands can often be combined into a single trip, reducing the amount of car usage. There’s really no need to go to the shopping mall on Saturday, and back again on Sunday.
Trains instead of planes
Planes are incredibly bad for the environment. If it’s feasible, consider taking a train instead. They’re more comfortable, with more potentially beautiful views, and increased time for reflection. If you must fly, do the right thing and pay a little extra to offset your carbon emissions.
Use public transportation
There’s tons of benefits to taking the bus or train—you can spend the time reading a captivating book, catching up your latest Netflix show, or just daydreaming. Public transport has none of the stresses of driving: battling your way through traffic jams, trying to find a parking spot, or worrying about a wallet-emptying crash.
Cycling is an awesome form of exercise, reducing your risk of stroke, heart attack, cancer, depression, diabetes, and obesity⁴. It feels much easier than running too. The less you use your car, the fewer your carbon emissions.
Sharing your trips with others is a great way to reduce CO2 emissions, and saves you money. Live close to a colleague? Consider travelling into work with them. Uber also has a car pool option, and Muve is another taxi service designed specifically with ride sharing in mind.
Rapid acceleration, excessive braking, and speeding all increase your fuel usage, and release greater amounts of greenhouse gas. You’ll also feel calmer if you drive normally.
Remove roof racks
Roof racks can be heavy, reducing fuel efficiency by up to 5%¹. Remove them if they’re not being used.
Properly inflate your car tyres
Every missing unit of PSI pressure results in 0.4% loss in fuel mileage⁵. This quickly adds up if your tyres are badly underinflated. It’s also dangerous.
Check your tyre pressure every couple of weeks—you can find the recommended tyre pressure for your car on a sticker in the driver’s side door jam, or in the owner’s manual.
Turn off your engine
When waiting to pick someone up, turn off your car’s engine. You’ll save fuel.
Divest from polluting companies
If you’re invested in a polluting energy company, a food manufacturer that uses palm oil, or any other company that has a direct impact on our environment, removing your investment is one of the most effective actions you can take. These companies want your investment.
Investment can affect a company’s share price, with the potential to increase its capital. Putting your money into the renewable energy sector will allow it to continue growing into the future, when eventually, it might be able to completely replace polluting chemical energy such as coal and oil.
Invest in battery technology
Tesla has been breaking ground with battery technology for years. Might we see a future where batteries power entire villages, negating the need for power plants? Elon Musk believes so. Investing in companies such as Tesla is a good show of support.
Invest in carbon removal technology
Carbon removal technology is a means to capture and remove carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. Though still new on the block, it’s showing a lot of promise as a tool in the fight against climate change.
There’s tons of charities who are doing great things to fight climate change. Your donation makes a difference. Find a list of charities with a quick Google search.
Become a minimalist
Contrary to popular believe, buying stuff can make us unhappy. The more shit we accumulate, the unhappier we become⁶. It’s also bad for our environment and wallets.
There’s some gems to be found in markets, garage sales and thrift shops. Every second hand item that you buy will negate the need for something new to be manufactured, which helps to reduce the amount of CO2 being released into our planet’s atmosphere.
Watch these shows
By using captivating storytelling and vivid imagery, film can be a powerful medium for inspiring change. Check out these awesome documentaries on climate change, and get inspired.
Millions of tiny actions add up to big changes, and could be the difference between our planet continuing to heat towards devastating temperatures, or reversing the trend and returning to safety. We must keep the climate crisis in the forefront of our mind, and make the right decisions every single day.
Only we can make the difference, but we must act. Right now.
97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is a man-made phenomenon¹. Our planet is reaching a critical tipping point—unless we curb our greenhouse gases, there’ll be appalling consequences for our species.
This article is part of a comprehensive guide on what you can do to help fight global warming. Millions of people can make a huge impact, but we must act right now.
This piece focuses on what you can do to save energy at home.
Hands off the thermostat
Cooling and heating is responsible for the most energy usage in your home—a whopping 47%⁶. Feeling cold? Put some warm clothes on and cocoon yourself in a cozy blanket. Feeling hot? Use a desktop or ceiling fan to cool yourself instead of power-hungry air-conditioning units.
If you must use your home’s heating/cooling, consider setting a less expensive temperature. Even a single degree can save you between 1–3% on your energy bill⁷, and reduce the amount of carbon that’s released into the atmosphere.
“The greenest Watt is the one that doesn’t have to be produced.” — Eenovators Limited
Get a programmable thermostat
It’s absolutely crazy to keep your heating/cooling system running when there’s nobody home. Installing a programmable thermostat that allows you to activate the system for specific time periods can save a hell of a lot of energy. Even better, modern thermostats such as Nest learns from your behaviour, and eventually maintains your preferred temperatures all by itself. Hive home is another good option.
Get a professional energy audit
A professional energy audit can help to identify areas of your home that can be improved, in order to save energy. Typical suggestions from an auditor might be installing roof insulation, or fixing “leaks” for draughty doors and windows, but there’s much more. An energy audit could result in a saving of between 5–30%⁸. Usually, the initial cost of the audit is quickly recouped.
You may even have access to free energy audits—a quick Google search will reveal.
Switch to a green energy plan
Many energy companies now offer “green” energy plans, which guarantees that your power is coming from renewable sources. You can generally opt for a percentage of green energy, or 100%.
You’ll pay a premium (roughly 15% for completely green energy²), but if you can afford it, you’ll be helping to save our planet by reducing the burning of filthy fossil fuels, in addition to supporting the renewable energy sector.
Switch off outlets
Energy used by appliances in standby-mode can add up to 5% of your annual bill, or 1% percent of global CO2 emissions³. That’s a stupendous amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere, for practically nothing.
Get into the habit of turning off your power outlets. If they’re difficult to reach, consider purchasing a power board with its own on/off switch, to make things easier.
Similarly, if you aren’t using something, it has no reason to be turned on. This includes lights, your TV, fans, your laptop, and anything else that uses power.
Switch to energy efficient, LED light bulbs
LED light bulbs use between 1/3 to 1/30th of regular incandescent or CFL bulbs, are much more durable due to their lack of filament, and can last up to 40 times longer⁴.
If everyone in the US switched to these bulbs, 40 new power plants would no longer be required⁴.
Don’t use your dryer
Clothes dryers are one of the biggest energy hogs in our homes. If you’re lacking space, consider getting yourself a foldaway clothes horse instead.
If you must use the dryer, purchase yourself some dryer balls. They decrease drying time by 30–50%, and remove some of the wrinkles from your clothing⁵.
After each cycle, removing the lint from the filter is another good way to save power.
Purchase energy efficient appliances
Make energy efficiency your biggest priority when purchasing appliances—look for products that have a good Energy Star rating. You could save yourself thousands of dollars in the long-run, and reduce your carbon emissions massively.
Try the “dollar-bill” test
Old fridges and freezers have a tendency to leak air — if a bill shut in the door is easy to pull out, you should consider replacing the gaskets. Even better, purchase a newer energy efficient appliance.
Recycle your old appliances
Some appliances can be incredibly harmful to the environment if not properly recycled, particularly refrigerators that contain HFC, a gas that is 1,000 times worse for global warming than carbon dioxide⁹. Older fridges can contain CFC, a chemical banned years ago for its similarly devastating warming effects.
When purchasing a new appliance, many retailers offer a recycling service for your old one. Alternatively, a quick Google search will reveal your other options.
Use energy saving modes
Many modern household items have an eco-friendly setting, which reduces their energy usage. This includes your TV, computer, washing machine, dishwasher, air-conditioning unit, and much more. Have a quick look at the item’s interface for an option that identifies eco-friendly mode, or dust off the instructions. Your power bills will drop.
Turn down the brightness
Your phone doesn’t need to light up the entire room when its turned on—reduce its brightness and save energy. Using your phone and laptop in bed has also shown to confuse your brain into thinking that it’s daytime, curbing the chemical that regulates sleep (melatonin) and damaging the quality of your slumber¹⁰.
The same goes for your TV and desktop computer—turning down the brightness a little can reduce your carbon footprint and help to save our planet.
Turn off your laptop
It’s easy to just close the lid of your laptop instead of shutting down, but it’ll continue to use valuable power. Turning off your laptop and computer will reduce greenhouse gases, and save you money. It’ll also extend the lifetime of the device.
Reduce your water heater’s temperature
The default setting for water heaters is usually 140°F (60°C) , but the US department of energy recommends setting the temperature to 120°F (49°C). This can save you between 6–10% on your energy bill¹³—no small amount.
Get a heat-pump water heater
Heat pump technology is highly efficient—it can reduce your water heating energy by more than 50%¹¹. Though initially expensive, you’ll eventually save on your energy bills.
Request a smart meter
In-home smart meters allow you to monitor how much energy you’re using, on a hourly or daily basis. These are fantastic at giving you a better idea of how much energy your appliances are using, e.g. discovering how much it costs you to air-condition your lounge during a particularly warm weekend.
Smart meters also submit their energy readings electronically, which means that a meter reader won’t need to make any more trips to your home in their dirty diesel van.
Wash your clothes in cold water
Modern washers are well-designed for cold water washing, effectively removing stains such as grass and makeup. Warmer water can even make certain stains (such as blood and sweat) worse.
Between 75–90% of the energy used in a washing cycle is for heating the water¹², creating a massive saving when washing on cold.
Get a water efficient shower head
Water efficient shower heads can save up to 50% of your water usage, making them incredibly economical, and excellent for the environment. Modern shower heads are much better at dispersing water, making them just as effective as their inefficient predecessors.
Take cooler showers
On the topic of showers, you might want to consider turning down the temperature in order to save energy. Colder showers have a ton of benefits—increased alertness, stimulated weight loss, better muscle recovery, and improved circulation to name a few¹⁴.
Get solar panels
Why buy energy when you can get it for free? Solar panels are becoming more affordable, and any excess power that you generate can be sold back to energy companies, giving you an additional source of income.
Solar panels are low maintenance — there’s no moving parts, and they only need cleaning twice a year. They usually come with a lengthy warranty period too: 20–25 years.
Ask for e-billing
Many companies now offer an e-billing option, sending your bills via email instead of wasting paper. More trees means more harmful carbon dioxide being converted into oxygen for us to breathe.
Clean your furnace’s air filter
If you have a furnace in your home, a dirty air filter will slow airflow and make the system work harder. Cleaning the filter can reduce your energy costs.
Get yourself a rainwater tank
If you have a garden, you might consider purchasing a rainwater tank. You can use the water in your washing machine, your toilet, your garden hose/sprinklers, to wash your car, and much more. This free supply of water might end up saving you a ton of money.
Plant a tree
A single tree absorbs a ton of carbon dioxide in its lifetime¹⁵. If you have a garden, planting a tree is a great thing to do for the environment. They look lovely too.
Compost your old food
Composting your old food provides you with a natural, valuable source of fertiliser for your plants. It reduces the need to transport the waste, and prevents methane gas creation after being dumped in landfill. Methane gas is 21 times more harmful than CO2¹⁶.
Time is quickly running out for the human race — unless we make drastic changes in the way we live, our planet’s temperature will pass the point of no return, with devastating global consequences¹.
This article is part of a comprehensive guide on what you can do to help fight global warming. Millions of people can make a huge impact, but we must act right now.
This article focuses on the second most effective area for tackling the climate crisis — your food.
Stop throwing away food
Paul Hawken—author or global warming book Drawdown—believes that food waste is the single most important food-related action that you can take as an individual. Roughly a third of the world’s food gets lost or wasted every single year⁶.
Plan your meals
Take some time out to plan your meals for the days ahead. There’s some great meal planning apps that you can use to make things easier, such as Mealime. This will ensure that you only buy the necessary ingredients (with fewer impulse buys), and more importantly, the right amount of ingredients.
Though bulk buying is convenient, it’s been shown to lead to more food waste⁷, so try to shop more frequently when possible. Before leaving for the shops, quickly open your fridge and pantry to see what you have left.
Pick misshapen produce
When you’re shopping, pick the “ugly” misshapen produce instead. Though it tastes exactly the same, our penchant for perfection means that it’s much more likely to go to waste. You can also save money by purchasing discounted, “final sale” food.
Use everything that you buy
Try your hardest to use every single ingredient that you buy before it goes out of date. This awesome tool enables you to quickly get recipes based on what you already have in your home. Older foods should be consumed before newer ones—eyeball and sniff tests can usually tell you whether it’s still good to eat; the sell-by date is far from full-proof. You might also consider prioritising your food based on how quickly it’ll spoil, with hardier foods left for later in the week. If you find yourself with “old” food, research how to still make use of them.
Use as much of your food as possible. Broccoli stems can be shredded to make slaw. Meat bones can produce a delicious stock, as can vegetable scraps. A quick Google search of your ingredients can teach you how to use every part of the food that you buy.
Don’t chop away the skin of your produce—it contains tons of nutrients⁸.
Preserve your food
Instead of throwing away your leftovers, put them into a clear container as a visual reminder whenever you open the fridge, or consider using a different preservation method such as freezing, pickling, drying, or curing. You’ll be saving precious time and money.
Store your food correctly
Keep your fruits and vegetables fresh for longer by learning where they should be stored. For example, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, garlic and cucumbers should be not be refrigerated. Certain foods can also spoil others, by producing ethylene gas. These includes bananas, avocados, tomatoes, peaches, pears and green onions. By storing your food effectively, it’ll be fresher and more nutritious.
Blend a smoothie
Nutrient-packed smoothies are a great way to use up old ingredients, or parts of food that you might usually throw away. Chuck in something sweet like a banana or some strawberries, and you’ve got yourself a glass of deliciousness.
Use an app
There’s lots of apps that can help to prevent food waste. Flashfood lists local food re-sellers, and Food Rescue US enables you to easily donate excess food to hunger relief organisations. It feels wonderful to know that your leftovers are feeding somebody in a desperate situation.
Reflect, and donate
When you do throw something away, consider the reasons why. Did you buy too much of it? Every piece of disposed food is money from your pocket, and carbon in the atmosphere. Discarded food is best given to local food banks (find them here), or composted to make fertiliser for your plants.
Change the way you eat
Less meat and dairy, more fruits and vegetables
Changing the way that you eat is also an incredibly effective tactic for fighting global warming. It’s as simple as this: eat less meat and dairy, and more fruits and vegetables.
Food production is responsible for a quarter of all co2 emissions, with meat and other animal products making up half of that³. Cutting meat and dairy from your diet can reduce your carbon footprint by an astonishing two-thirds². Though a complete boycott is unreasonable, we can certainly cut back a lot, particularly with red meat. Places like the US, Europe, and Australia eat much more meat than is required for a healthy diet¹². Meat and dairy provide only 18% of our calories, but use 83% of Earth’s farmland⁴.
Eating a beef burger just twice a week for an entire year has the same environmental impact as driving a petrol car for roughly 1500 miles (2500km), or heating a UK home for three months². Those numbers are absolutely insane—if you want to help save the planet, avoid beef and lamb at all costs. You might consider trying some of the new meat alternatives that are appearing, such as Beyond Meat (it’s pretty damn close to the real thing).
Lost protein from meat is best made up with plants such as beans, legumes, nuts, and grains. If you must eat meat, go for chicken or pork.
More wild seafood
Seafood caught in the wild generally has a small climate footprint¹³, making it a climate-friendly source of protein. Much of the world is overfishing though, so it’s important to use an app such as Seafood Watch to check whether the food is sustainable.
Adopt an eco-friendly diet
The Western meat-heavy diet is making huge numbers of people fat and sick, causing roughly 11 million deaths a year⁵. By eating healthier, eco-friendly meals, you’ll lose weight, have more energy, reduce your risk of chronic disease, have better focus, and experience better moods⁹. Your diet is fundamental for your happiness.
One of the hardest things about changing your diet is knowing what to eat instead. Thankfully, there’s tons of websites that list eco-friendly recipes. Greener Ideal is a good option, or you can search for other sites in Google using this link. Vegan recipes are also a good bet, and can be tastier than you might expect.
If you’re eating out, go for the occasional veggie option.
Ban palm oil
The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) estimates that by 2022, 98% of Indonesia’s tropical forest will be destroyed for palm oil production and illegal logging. As tropical rainforest is removed, there’s fewer trees to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, and the newly-exposed peatland releases massive quantities of stored carbon¹¹. Palm oil is awful for our environment.
Tropical forests can provide a massive 24% of the climate change mitigation that we need to meet Paris Agreement goals¹¹. This won’t happen if we continue buying products that contain palm oil.
Take a few seconds to check the ingredients of your products. Palm oil is one of the most common types of vegetable oil, so if your product contains vegetable oil and has some saturated fat, it’s almost certainly palm oil. Common products that contain palm oil include bread, chips/crisps, ice cream, pizza bases, instant noodles, shampoo and chocolate. Try to purchase items that contain a different type of oil—olive oil is a healthy option.
Eat local, in-season food
Locally grown, in-season food doesn’t have to travel the world to arrive on your plate, making it an environmentally-friendly choice. It’ll be fresher, therefore tastier and more nutritious, and there’s less chance of pesticides and preservatives being used. Locally grown produce is undoubtedly healthier.
Farmer’s markets are a way to source local food, and the hard-working farmers in your community will get better margins from your purchase, instead of having to sell their produce at reduced prices to profit-hungry supermarkets. You can find your local farmer’s markets here.
Grow your own food
Home-grown food doesn’t need to be shipped thousands of miles to get to your plate, it’s right there for the picking. This makes it fresh, delicious, lacking in nasty pesticides, and incredibly nutritious. You’ll be saving money too.
You don’t necessarily need a garden to grow your own food, it can be as simple as a tomato or chilli plant on your apartment balcony, which also happen to brighten up the space. If you do have a little land (even the tiniest plot will do), you can consider growing potatoes or lettuces.
Our food habits play a crucial role in tackling climate change, but only if we make a concerted effort. When millions of people change the way that they eat, our planet will become significantly less choked. Be the person who makes a difference, and help to save our planet.
Scientists have issued a horrifying “final call” to save the world from climate catastrophe. Our species is staggering on a knife’s edge—never in our history has something been of such urgent importance.
This article is part of a comprehensive guide on what you can do to help fight global warming. Your contribution counts more than you think—we have incredible strength in numbers, but we’re headed towards oblivion unless we act right now.
This piece focuses on the most effective area for tackling climate change—political action.
Vote for environmental action
Your vote is one of the most effective ways for you to fight global warming.
It’s time to support a political party that puts the environment at the heart of their policies. We cannot continue electing greedy politicians who support huge, polluting corporations. These rapacious companies are widening the gap between rich and poor, and destroying the only home we’ll ever know.
If there’s upcoming elections in your country, take the time to research each party’s policies, and vote for the party who are dedicating themselves to environmental action. The Greens are usually a good bet.
Join advocacy groups
Advocacy groups influence public opinion, and help to change laws. These groups can evolve into huge social movements that change the course of history:
Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Movement
The Suffragette Movement for women’s right to vote
The Boston Tea Party for American independence
The Abolitionist Movement against slavery
With enough people, the same can happen with global warming. Politicians can’t ignore a million voices crying out in unison. Advocacy groups can help to make big changes, and we need big changes fast.
How to find advocacy groups
Discover your local climate change movements with this link, or local environmental advocacy groups with this link.
Advocacy groups can be focused on a range of environmental concerns—sustainability, renewable energy, efficient agriculture, deforestation, carbon pricing, etc.
When you’ve found some groups that you like, browse their websites to see how you can take action. A half-hearted glimpse isn’t enough—we must get involved if we want to make a change.
To keep up to date with their work, sign up to their newsletter, like their Facebook and YouTube pages, and follow their Twitter and Instagram accounts. You’ll be provided with regular, invaluable information on how to make a difference.
Consider doing the same for these major organisations:
There’s been climate change protests all over the world in recent months—your voice can help to raise the noise level of the crowd to a mighty roar. Research shows that protests can create long-lasting political change. Your attendance is vital.
Contact your local elected official
Your local elected official has the political influence to fight global warming, but will only do so with your persuasion. Politicians want our votes—if we make them aware of our environmental concerns, they’re much more likely to push for changes in this area.
Find out how to contact your local official here (US and other countries), or here (UK and Australia). Once you have the necessary details, you’ll likely be able to do three things:
Meet with them
Ask about their stance on climate change, and stress your severe concerns about the future of our sickly planet. Or consider sending them the below:
Hi [politician name],
97% of climate scientists agree that our planet is dying, with potentially devastating consequences. Could you please outline your stance on climate change, and any changes you’re willing to make that will have an impact?
If you’re willing to take action, you have my vote.
With enough pressure from enough people, they may be convinced to put a plan in place.
Change can only happen with us—we must put effort into the above suggestions. We’re quickly approaching a global temperature increase from which there’s no turning back, but with a little work from each and every one of us, we can change the course of our planet’s future.
New Zealand is a country often associated with postcard picturesque beauty, brimming with spectacular mountain ranges, mischievous parrots and locals with unfathomable accents. That temporarily changed this week after the abhorrent acts of a single coward, armed with a hoard of weapons and a brain infected with the virus of extreme right-wing ideology, perpetuated in part by online forum 8chan, a place where like-minded individuals come together and discuss which cross-sections of society should be slaughtered, for the betterment of our race.
A natural period of enquiry usually follows such a tragic event, in an effort to prevent similar occurrences, and given that it is exceptionally difficult to identify potential mass murderers, our attention turns to factors that we can control. Gun reform is already being discussed by the New Zealand cabinet, just four days after the attack occurred, testament to their progressive government and laudable prime minister Jacinda Ardern. The terrorist’s mental health is another consideration. In his rambling, racist manifesto he claims to be an ordinary white man, as though everyday, mentally-healthy people harbour urges of puncturing the organs of innocent people with bullets. As a native Australian, the shooter had access to discounted mental health programs via their Medicare system, providing him with a limited number of appointments with a mental health professional, though it’s unclear whether these were ever utilised, or how effective they would have been in steering him away from extreme ideology.
The third major consideration, and much murkier problem, is how to moderate hate-filled discussion boards on websites like 8chan. These are hotbeds of righteous discontent, loaded with reclusive figures whose pitiful anger can develop into violent, unbridled extremism, occasionally forming a character of such severity as the Christchurch shooter, so psychologically disturbed and miseducated that he considers his actions enough to prevent Muslims from migrating to predominantly white countries such as New Zealand.
The United States, UK, Australia, and many other countries fall under the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights treaty, which includes the prohibition of certain types of hate speech, such as inciting violence against an ethnic group. The problem is one of enforcement — given that there’s no such thing as an internet police force (thank god), is it possible to systematically and efficiently censor lunatics like the Christchurch shooter, so that their violence-inciting ideology is eliminated before it reaches more gullible and mentally-unhealthy minds?
With the failure of self-moderation, one might expect the responsibility of regulating hateful content to fall to a government appointment regulatory board in the country where the website is hosted, which reviews the content of questionable sites such as 8chan, with the power to take them offline if necessary. 8chan is infamous for hosting illegal content, making it a prime target for such a regulatory board. Surely a government cannot stand by while a public, highly popular website that is hosted in their country openly discusses child rape, or advocates the destruction of the Muslim faith? While this kind of moderation will be challenging beyond belief, and probably require much free assistance from the general public, the alternative is allowing destructive, hateful ideas to perpetuate among the most depressed and disillusioned minds in the human race.
Freedom of speech is essential for a democratic, fair society in which ideas can be discussed without fear of consequence. The ICCPR tells us that the right to freedom of expression is not an absolute right. This means that platforms such as 8chan cannot have free reign to host disgusting, violence-promoting content. The ICCPR exists for this very reason.
The problem with freedom of speech is that it’s also freedom to be evil. It’s possible to protect freedom of speech and censor websites that repeatedly violate hate speech laws. The difficult part is working out how to do so. Figuring out how to regulate echo chambers of mentally-deranged hate such as 8chan is an absurdly challenging task, but also an incredibly important one, worthy of the extensive time and investment needed in order to remove the soapboxes of senseless, would-be terrorists.
A skinny, dishevelled boy of 6 sits cross-legged on his dust-covered bedroom floor, hands clamped over his ears so tightly that his fingertips are whitened. The impassioned screams of his booze-fuelled parents permeate the house, filling every room with blackened anger. It’s no use — he cannot shut out the despairing sounds of the people who are supposed to be his role models; the people who are supposed to love him. Instead, they spend their evenings numbing their miserable existence with cold, hard liquor, expelling any remaining pain as vehement hatred. Though he craves nothing more than an evening of quiet solitude, or just a moment of peace in which this misery can be forgotten, he cannot escape the screams.
Add another twelve tumultuous years until his 18th birthday, when he officially becomes a man. At this point his upbringing has caused severe psychological damage, resulting in regular anti-social behaviour, sometimes violence. He struggles to make friends, and the few friends he does have exhibit similar behaviour, having also grown up in desperate, low socio-economic circumstances.
His turbulent life has created a consistent sense of fear and anger, and a strong desire to protect himself. He carries a knife as a result. One winter afternoon, during an escalating argument outside a pub with a former schoolmate, he pulls his knife from his pocket and stabs him through the heart, killing him.
What should happen to him at this point? How should society deal with him?
The typical answer is “prison” — he’s murdered another human being, and deserves to be punished. The public also needs to be protected. But how can we possibly justify punishing someone who has spent his entire life being punished by cruel and unjust circumstances? People who have grown up in better conditions rarely stab people. Dire situations lead to dire outcomes — the man had no control over the circumstances of his life, so as he stood before his opponent, glowering with righteous anger, to say that he should have done the right thing is tragic moral ineptitude.
“If imprisonment were the answer to crime we would be closing prisons not opening more.”—Stuart Greenstreet, Philosophy Now
UK prisons are full of people from disadvantaged backgrounds. As children, they’re 4 times more likely to have run away from home, 13 times more likely to have been taken into care, 25 times more likely to have been a regular truant, and 4 times more likely to have left school with no qualifications. It’s also 2.5 times more likely for them to have a family member convicted of a criminal offence. Their upbringing is a long stretch of tempestuous instability, during which they gradually take on the corrupted characteristics of their hapless parents, fated for the dark, cold walls of a prison cell — a cycle of perpetual criminality, generation after generation.
The concept of punishment as a deterrent is a complete failure. Many of the people who commit crimes do so because of their tragic lives, making them prime candidates for empathy and support, not punishment. It’s obvious that dangerous criminals should be kept away from the public, but in an establishment whose main purpose is to help and assist them, not punish them. This is occurring in the Netherlands, which places a strong emphasis on mental health, by assessing, filtering and treating the prisoners based on their unique problems, unlike the UK or US where they’re thrown into general population. The Dutch even implemented a sliding scale of responsibilitybased on the convict’s unique circumstances, ranging from full responsibility to a total lack of responsibility. The Dutch prison system is so effective that they’ve started turning their prisons into housing for refugees. Over in Norway, the recidivism rate is the lowest in the world — just 20% — relying on a concept called restorative justice, which aspires to repair the damage caused by the crime, rather than ruthless, merciless punishment. Psychologist and prison governor Arne Wilson states the following:
“In closed prisons we keep them locked up for some years and then let them back out, not having had any real responsibility for working or cooking. In the law, being sent to prison is nothing to do with putting you in a terrible prison to make you suffer. The punishment is that you lose your freedom. If we treat people like animals when they are in prison they are likely to behave like animals. Here we pay attention to you as human beings.”—Arne Wilson
Compare the Norwegian recidivism rate of 20%, with the US rate of 76.6%. This tells you exactly what you need to know about the effectiveness of the brutal and inhumane “hard time” mentality.
Thankfully, some areas of the US are making progress. New York judges have the option of sending criminals to programs instead of prison, which like the Dutch system, are more tailored to the person’s unique needs. This program has a 60% success rate. The state of Kentucky passed a bill that encourages community-based treatment for juveniles, rather than immediate, costly detention. For the younger troublemakers, Chicago is now offering a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) program, which has reduced arrests by up to 35%, violent crime arrests by up to 50%, and graduation rates by up to 19%. CBT teaches the youngsters to pause and reflect on their impulsive, often damaging thoughts and behaviours, in order to consider whether they should be doing things differently.
“I’d watched too many schoolmates graduate into mental institutions, into group homes and jails, and I knew that locking people up was paranormal – against normal, not beside it. Locks didn’t cure; they strangled.” — Scott Westerfeld, The Last Days
In Canada, prisoner-afflicted families are being offered family-group counselling, helping to build a closely connected support group that decreases the likelihood of reoffence. It’s believed that this solution is one of the reasons for Canada’s prison population decrease. When we treat criminals like humans and offer them the assistance that they so desperately need, they often respond with the same kindness. Back in the UK, the Midlands watched their recidivism fall to an incredible 10%, after tripling the number of officers whose exclusive responsibility is to deter former criminals from reoffending.
Dangerous criminals should obviously be kept in confinement to protect the public, but the conditions of their incarceration, and the professional help that is offered to them, are key to their successful rehabilitation and reintegration into society. We cannot maintain impotent notions of the punishment should fit the crime, or an eye for an eye — they’re grossly inhumane, and utterly useless. Prisoners need repeated long-term therapy to manage their mental health issues, and educational programs to help them with their lives and careers. But most importantly, despite their crimes, they need the sympathetic kindness of an entire host of prison and rehabilitation workers, each fully convinced that the way to repair a person’s ravaged character is through consistent and relentless benevolence — the treatment that they should have received from their parents during their younger years.
With compassion, understanding, and a hell of a lot of patience, the revolving door of prison can be smashed off its hinges.
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” — Nelson Mandela
At some point in our distant evolutionary past, a primate chanced upon a sticky swirl of fermented fruit, and after making the decision to consume it, felt the pleasant effects of a drug for the first time. Much changed over the next few million years, but our collective love for drugs isn’t one of them. Whether it’s the energy-boost from a cup of coffee that releases us from our zombie-like state, the numbing relaxation of a pint of lager that permeates us with ease, or the love-inducing effects of an ecstasy pill whereby we want to hug everybody, many of us adore how drugs make us feel.
Drugs have the ability to make us more productive employees, more likeable people, or seemingly better dancers. They can transform the steady, monotonous thump of a house beat into something wonderfully hypnotising, for which you’ll happily spend five hours dancing to. They can remove the stifling, anxiety-inducing edginess which is ingrained in social interaction, or make a difficult conversation a little easier to handle.
Drugs can also lead you to a sickening addiction that may result in giving alleyway blowjobs, surrounded by scores of needles and scum-filled pools of water. A thunderous techno beat might be the last thing you ever hear if you take too many ecstasy pills. Legal drugs aren’t any better – alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs to withdraw from, creating hallucinations, severe body tremors, and occasionally death. Cigarettes are notoriously tough to quit, and create a cancerous, sticky black tar in the lungs of their smokers.
Drugs can be extremely dangerous when abused, but despite the plethora of information outlining the risks, we take them regardless. This is how much we love them.
Debates are raging in Australia at the moment about the possibility of implementing pill-testing tents at music festivals, offering attendees the chance to discover what their illegal drugs actually contain, and how strong they are. A few months ago, New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian pushed back against the idea, stating the following:
“We do not support a culture that says it is OK to take illegal drugs, and I am worried about the number of people who attend these events who think it is OK to take illegal drugs.” —Gladys Berejiklian
The crux of the problem is this: it doesn’t matter whether the Australian government gives their approval to take illegal drugs, people are going to take them anyway. The fact that there’s a $320 billion dollar black market is proof of this. Until our governments develop some kind of effective mind control, our love of drugs isn’t going to change, and we’ll continue taking them, illegal or not.
Prohibition obviously doesn’t work, it just goes underground and creates a network of crime that governments waste billions battling against. Every single country that has embarked on a war on drugs has failed miserably, not because they lacked the correct strategy, but because people have a strong desire to take drugs. Where there’s a desire, there’s a market.
The government has also tried drug-scare campaigns, which in a comical backfire, have shown to have the complete opposite effect, with people more motivated to take drugs after encountering the campaign. No amount of bodybag or car crash imagery will prevent people from doing what they love. I cannot reiterate this point enough – people will continue to take drugs, regardless of the government’s futile attempts to convince them otherwise. History has proven this point time and time again.
In light of the fact that people are always going to want to take mind-altering, illegal substances, and that convincing them not to take them is a laughable failure, any sane person would surely agree that we should do whatever we can to ensure that their drugs are as safe as possible? Would any politician in their right mind – Gladys Berejiklian included – argue against this point? Can they really continue pushing the astonishingly pathetic, antiquated idea of just say no? People don’t just say no, they just say yes, regardless of the fact that they’re risking death (albeit the tiniest chance) every time that they take them. If you can’t frighten a drug-user with the prospect of their death, you’re not going to frighten them with anything.
Inevitability cannot be fought, so the only sensible solution is to make illegal drugs as safe as possible. Festival drug testing tents have been shown to be an effective way of doing this, simply by giving users more information about their drugs. It’s absolutely astonishing that politicians like Gladys Berejiklian, and NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller, are claiming that it’s a bad thing to know whether your drugs contain a poison that will kill you. This is one of those situations where their arguments are so ridiculous that you half-expect it to be a prank. There’s simply no scenario where life-saving information about your illegal drugs is a bad thing, unless you’re advocating more death, which as bizarre as it sounds, is exactly what people like Gladys Berejiklian and Mick Fuller are doing.
Former police chiefs and politicians (who no are longer concerned about pursuing a career) are calling for decriminalisation. The ambitious NSW premier would never dream of doing this in case she loses voters, but losing drug-users to poisonous pills doesn’t seem to be so much of a problem. The recent spate of drug-related deaths in Australia may not have happened if the victims had access to a service that detected the deadly toxicity in their drugs, or were offered advice from a knowledgable, sympathetic drug-worker.
I don’t believe for a second that Gladys Berejiklian or Mick Fuller actually think that the approval of pill-testing tents will legitimise drug use. They’re just so concerned with damaging their own careers that they’re willing to overlook the mountains of evidence that demonstrates the life-saving capabilities of drug-testing. They can no longer ignore the proof. Unless they want more people to die, it’s time to put aside their selfishness and offer serious legislative support for establishing pill-testing tents at every Australian music festival.