A very Otesha donations dilemma

12th September 2012 by

If you know Otesha, you’ll know that we believe life is much more fulfilling when you manage to stop measuring how good your life is by how much stuff you own. Not only is it a pretty rubbish way of measuring your worth as a person, but the Earth’s life support systems can’t cope with our incredible appetite. You might also know that we find taking a less-is-more attitude is not only good for the planet and good for people, it can also mean lots of fun, creativity and beauty. So we always say: if you can, don’t go shopping, go upcycling!

So why on earth would we suddenly ask you to raise money for Otesha by going shopping?

All the time the internet is coming up with new ways for people to help raise money for charities they love – which is great, considering how hard times are for charities at the moment.

One of the latest is Give As You Live. This gizmo lets you nominate the charity you want to benefit – then a percentage of the value of your online shopping will go to that good cause – without costing you a penny. Thousands of online businesses take part, and sometimes the percentages are pretty significant. When it all adds up, it could do a lot of good.

Being Otesha, we just had to have a long collective agonising heart-search about this one: if we asked our friends and supporters to go shopping to help us, wouldn’t we be making the problem of overconsumption worse? And wouldn’t it be like accepting money from companies that we might actually think do ethically and environmentally dubious things?

On the other hand, we know the majority of you are shopping online anyway – and we are too, for example when we make our office stationery orders or if we buy train tickets.  If there’s a chance to help Otesha from what you and we are already doing, wouldn’t we be pretty stupid not to?

So here’s where we arrived at:

  • We don’t want you to go shopping just in order to help us!  But if you already shop online (we know you can’t make, grow or upcycle everything you need!), we’d really love it if you could sign up to Give As You Live and nominate the Otesha Project UK as the charity you’re benefiting.
  • We’re still in favour of consuming mindfully: Do I need this thing? Can I do without it? Is it made and transported in a way that minimises harm to (or maybe even benefits) people and nature?
  • We decided to be transparent about our dilemma and decision – that’s how you come to be reading this blog post!
  • We decided to take this opportunity, while talking about consuming mindfully and ethically – to promote our corporate screening policy, which prevents us from taking donations from companies that are exploiting people and planet. By using Give As You Live we’re not quite taking money directly from companies, but it’s close enough to make us a bit uncomfortable that we can’t control which companies participate – so if you think you’re shopping with a company that might not pass our policy, well, please think again!

So, with that all out in the open, here’s how you sign up to help support Otesha:

1. Download the Give As You Live software by clicking here – it’s very fast and doesn’t take up a lot of memory

2. Nominate the Otesha Project UK as your chosen charity

3. When you shop with participating businesses, it will work away in the background and benefit Otesha’s work – taking eco-workshops to schools across the country, supporting young people’s world-changing projects and getting young unemployed people into green, decently paid, meaningful work.

Thank you – and if you have any thoughts on our decision and dilemma, as usual we’d really value hearing what you think.

My burning question on bankers’ bonuses and CEOs’ salaries

10th November 2011 by

Not very often, but once in a while, a top-tier banker or CEO will appear in a broadcasting studio or broadsheet newspaper interview and be asked: Are you worth it? Do you deserve it?

It seems the answer they give is always yes, sometimes with some humility and sometimes all-guns-blazing, arguing that their know-how and talent creates wealth for the rest of society.

George Monbiot this week pointed to research showing that bankers’ performances are no better than if they had thrown dice to make investment decisions. But, as he admits, present them with this evidence and it often makes no difference to their self-belief.

For me, these TV studio encounters are frustrating. There is a burning question I want to see the financiers answer. I think it would be illuminating and help blow some fresh air through the debate, opening up an important angle that’s often not looked at.

It’s not ‘Are you worth your salary?’ It’s not ‘Isn’t the gap between the richest and poorest hurting the whole of society?’ – though these are important questions.

It’s:

“Why do you want so much more money than anyone actually needs?”

Pressing them to answer this question would make for an absolutely riveting interview. Many of the honest, or even dishonest, answers I can imagine being given would confront viewers, and perhaps the interviewees, with the question of how much wealth and how much consumption is enough, and how much is moral.

What might the honest answers be? Here are a few guesses:

“I want to earn enough so that I can move only in circles of similarly rich people and so I don’t have to mix with ordinary people unless I choose to.”

“I like to know that I possess more money than I could spend because the knowledge of this abstract wealth gives me a feeling of security and self-affirmation.”

“I want to buy stuff: Rolexes, swimming-pools, multiple homes with more rooms than I can use, haute couture, yachts, limousines, racehorses and private jets.”

“I want to reach that point where my wealth is so great that I can live off the interest on my existing wealth without having to do work that is actually productive.”

“I want to live with and die with more money and material possessions than 99% of human beings.”

“I want my children to go through life knowing only ease and total material security, provided for in every way so they don’t have to learn how to make their own way in the world.”

Their claims that they deserve their remuneration seem to convince some people, even some of those who can never hope to earn such sums themselves but respect those who have been able to.

But what would it do to the debate to air this question of what we might want enormous incomes for? Many people, most likely, would still identify with these desires, still want them for themselves and still see them as legitimate and justified reward for supposedly hard work and irreplaceable talent.

Many others, though, might find themselves feeling new disgust, anger, alienation or even pity towards those who want incredible wealth.

Airing the question, though, would help bring out some deep questions for all of us, because the gap between top-flight financiers and the rest of us arguably has a parallel in the difference between most of us in rich industrialised countries and the vast majority of the world’s people who would regard our lifestyles as those of kings and emperors.

It would put on the table for all us the question of how much is enough, whether there is a gap between what we desire materially what we need to live decently, whether our desires are compatible with natural limits and others’ well-being, and what we are prepared to forego for the greater good and greater equality.

This is an increasingly important question, because if we cling to a sense of entitlement to riches and great material ease, but the economy and declining available energy make these less and less attainable, the anger that may result can take ugly political directions into scapegoating and extremism. We all need to be prompted to re-evaluate what we can collectively afford to have and afford to desire.

So come on, Paxman, give it a shot.


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