Voices from the North

On December 9, 2009 my special returning guest on Voices from the North was Bob Cooper. For those of you who don’t already know, Bob is a pioneer of home satellite technology. Here’s a link to a Mother Earth News article about Bob written in 1980. He has self-published more than 40 books in the course of his productive life and he’s recently turned novelist of the Portobello trilogy set in the Caribbean (Turks & Caicos Islands), where Bob used to live.

Gutenberg and Printing

During this interview Bob gives an overview of publishing from the time of Johannes Gutenberg (the 42 line Gutenberg Bible) in about 1439 until the present. He ties in our discussion with the findings of Gavin Menzies, author of 1421 and 1434, who claims the Chinese sailed flotillas of 300 ships around the world long before Columbus theoretically discovered the Americas. In fact, Menzies claims Columbus was using Chinese maps to assist his navigation. The Chinese were also printing books with movable type at least as early as AD 900, again long before the supposed invention of Gutenberg’s.

Bob Cooper was simultaneously publishing five magazines circa 1960 when he was in his early twenties. At that time, technology hadn’t advanced much beyond the early printing of Gutenberg. Flats were made for each magazine page from molten lead. Post production, the entire lot was melted down again, ready for the next printing project.

Print on Demand

Espresso Book Machine

Now, fast forward to today. Print on Demand companies like BookSurge (or as they’re now called, CreateSpace) are using fully automated and computerized machines like the Espresso Book Machine. As Bob explains, from the moment Joe Bloggs (from anywhere) places his online order for a POD book, one minute might transpire before the physical book is produced from scratch complete with an address label ready to be posted or couriered to Joe. Presumably, no human hands have been involved to this point. The BookSurge representative is likely calmly sipping a liquid Espresso at the time. There is no need to make an initial print run of, say, 3000 copies. The books are printed as required.

Enter Kindle

Six months ago the publishing industry was again turned on its head with the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle Wirless Reading Device. Again, as Bob says, a vacationer lounging on the beach in Samoa could have a new book uploaded to her Kindle within a minute of placing their order. All they need is access to 3G mobile, something that’s pretty omnipresent today.

So, what are the implications of the rapid technological changes we’re seeing in the publishing world? Only time will tell. But, as Bob Cooper points out in our interview, Barnes and Noble will be closing 200 stores after Christmas and, at the same time, Borders will be virtually (pun intended) no more. Keep your eyes and ears open in 2010. Will you be reading from a machine or from a real book. I’m sticking to the ‘real thing’, and that’s not Coca Cola folks!

For the complete informative and entertaining interview listen here:

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John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.



Here’s a story that crossed my path over two years ago. I continue to find it inspiring how groups that have traditionally fought each other have been able to work together for a common cause – saving a precious part of our planet. I like to think that we’ll see more and more of this kind of cooperation in the years to come.


 Huge chickens invaded fast food stores in London and started to ask
 customers if they knew they were eating soya from deforested areas of
 the Amazon. That was in April. The chickens were noisy Greenpeace
 activists… It took McDonald’s only six hours between the first ‘homo
 chickenacius’ invasion of its restaurants and the phone call to
 Greenpeace to discuss the issue. Why? Because fast-food consumers
 started to be choked with McNuggets and McChickens. Ethical
 consumption’s appeal is increasing.

 Brazil’s foremost business commentator Miriam Leitao was writing in the mass circulation newspaper O Globo about a unique campaign that began four months ago in Leicester Square and culminated last week in Sao Paulo, when some of the world’s most powerful companies took a first step towards saving the Amazon from the ravages of soya cultivation. An unlikely union of Greenpeace, McDonald’s and leading UK supermarkets like Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and ASDA had successfully pressured multinational commodities brokers into signing a two-year moratorium on buying soya from newly deforested land in the Amazon.

 Business journalists have often been quick to accuse groups like
 Greenpeace of nurturing a knee-jerk hostility to global corporations.
 Well, yes, we do hold the view that multinationals are responsible for
 much of the environmental degradation blighting our planet. But our
 alliance with McDonald’s and other food companies demonstrates that when business is ready to seriously tackle a crisis, we are ready join




 I cannot say it came naturally to Greenpeace to jump into bed with the
 world’s largest fast food company! But it is a fact that, in this
 instance, the company immediately recognised the nature of the problem and sought not simply to put its own house in order, but to use its might to push a multi-million dollar industry towards a more sustainable future. For that McDonald’s European executives must be congratulated.

 Home to at least 30 per cent of the world’s land-based animal and plant
 species and 220,000 people from 180 different indigenous nations, the
 Amazon rainforest is one of the most unique and biodiverse regions on
 the planet. Yet in recent times, an area the size of Wales has been lost
 every year – that’s equivalent to a football pitch cleared every ten
 seconds. Soya is becoming the prime driver of this deforestation as the
 crop is used increasingly to feed chickens, pigs and cows for meat
 products, including, until recently, Chicken McNuggets.








 We conducted a three year investigation into the trade, uncovering a
 supply chain that begins with illegal rainforest destruction – sometimes
 using slave labour – and ends at the counters of fast food restaurants
 and supermarkets in Europe. Using satellite images, aerial surveillance,
 previously unreleased government documents and on-the-ground undercover monitoring, Greenpeace campaigners for the first time tracked the trade in soya beans from plantation field to fork, in the form of meat reared on the bean. Given the slice of the market commanded by McDonald’s, the company was an obvious starting point for the application of consumer pressure. What we did not expect was the speed with which the campaign progressed, and the allies we would make along the way.

 The April release of our investigation, across three pages of this
 newspaper, coincided with a simultaneous invasion by 2m high clucking
 chickens of McDonald’s restaurants in seven UK cities. By the time the last of the chickens had been unchained by police from the counter of Manchester’s flagship restaurant, Ronald McDonald had come to the table.






 The company very quickly agreed to get Amazon soya out of its chicken
 feed. But more than that, it formed an alliance with other UK retailers
 – including ASDA, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer – to put pressure on
 agribusiness interests operating in Brazil, including Cargill, to stop
 destroying the rainforest. Cargill is the world’s largest privately
 owned company and has led the march of soya across the rainforest
 frontier. If the big retailers will not touch chicken fed on Amazon
 soya, so went our reasoning, the pressure on Cargill and the other
 commodities giants to source soya from elsewhere would become

 An indication of the influence being exerted by the retailers came in
 May at a meeting I and my colleagues had with Cargill executives in the
 midst of a shutdown by Greenpeace volunteers of the company’s European headquarters.



 Our discussions had been preceded by phone calls from UK buyers expressing concern at Cargill’s practices in the Amazon. Cargill’s bosses seemed to have jumped the psychological barrier of dealing with Greenpeace and were ready to negotiate. And they did, in a series of meetings in London and Brazil over the following weeks. These meetings included the president of Cargill in Brazil who was very frank about the problems of legality the company was facing in the Amazon.

 Eventually the alliance of Greenpeace and European retailers led to a
 two-year moratorium on multinational traders buying soya from newly
 deforested land in the Amazon rainforest.


Last week, the agreement was signed in Sao Paulo. The signatories included the US-based multinationals Cargill, ADM and Bunge, the Brazilian Amaggi group, and French-based Dreyfus — between them responsible for most of the Amazon soya market.

 Given the scale of the crisis in the Amazon, a two year moratorium is
 only a small beginning and falls far short of what is ultimately needed
 to protect the rainforest. It is now up to us to monitor the
 implementation of the deal to ensure there’s no going back on the
 commitments made.

 Crucially we have to close any space that might allow companies to go
 back in two years time and return to a business as usual approach in the belief that the heat is off. But the deal, if implemented properly,
 truly demonstrates the influence consumers can have on events thousands of miles away, and the power that can be brought to bear when business is willing to apply its might to the greatest problems faced by our species and our world.