DOUR DOERS?

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Photo by Sophie Louisnard on Unsplash

I sent a copy of Rebecca Solnit’s most recent essay (it came out in print October 19) to a friend in Vancouver, partly as a thank-you for a favour done some months back, and also because he’s the kind of reader that likes material that tickles the brain. He phoned this morning to tell me that Solnit was going to speak with Matt Galloway on The Current, a conversation you can both find and whose transcript you can read at:

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-oct-29-2021-1.6229890/how-george-orwell-s-roses-gave-rebecca-solnit-a-new-perspective-on-the-author-1.6230540

I’m finding that Orwell’s Roses adds a lot of insight, both in my appreciation of the life and work of the Orwellian one, but also, in typical Solnit fashion, in general little life hacks. One of the items she discusses in the interview with Galloway is the incident where Orwell was told by a fellow activist and hard-line socialist, that flowers are bourgeois, and therefore worthy of the scorn of progressive activists. So ought those most persistent in the search for a better world to swear off all forms of pleasure and appreciation that don’t directly add to the effort to tear down the capitalist edifice? Evidently, not according to Orwell himself, given that he planted and tended notoriously bourgeois roses and indulged in the sensuality of gardening, amongst other pleasures without, seemingly, diminishing his efforts to warn us of the rise of authoritarianism and the surveillance society.

My mother Maggie was a long-time activist involved in anti-war protests, advocacy for women, housing issues, voter registration, racial equality and pretty much any other cause that worked for a more just society, but who maintained a passion for art, music, design, gardening (including those pesky bourgeois flowers), food, books, and conversation as belonging in everyone’s more just existence, and often mentioned the thought that beauty and humour needed to feature prominently in efforts to broaden people’s perspectives on social and economic justice. She and Dad were both seriously activist in their attitude, but his outlook was more straightforward and looked to simple facts to take the converts down the road. There are echos of Maggie in a lot of the mental meanderings of Orwell’s Roses, a lot of them reflecting the need for balance in the search for a better life.

The Key

The Globe and Mail this morning has a post on its site in which it, unsurprisingly, trumpets that:

Private sector holds the key to reaching sustainability, climate goals

The problem is the skepticism engendered by the long history of the private sector spending lavishly to buy favour in the corridors of power precisely so as to keep the aforementioned key buried under a mass of commercial profit-making activity and hidden in a safe where no one is allowed to see it. This goes a long way to explaining why so many governments have continued to be willing partners to destructive business initiatives, and it wouldn’t surprise many of us that the global media have been active in lulling people all over the world into a sense of security and entitlement of what has come to be known as “normal” The recently-concluded G20 hasn’t produced any tangible results, and COP 26 could easily turn into a brilliantly-laundered word-churn accomplishing nothing.

Citizen Science and Halloween

For the better part of two decades, we’ve been growing these Baby Bear pumpkins whose seed we get from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Albion, Maine. They are great eating pumpkins, pie pumpkins, carvers for the not-too-ambitious, and keep well into winter. They have semi-hulless seeds that toast into a most delicious snack. They are the antithesis of what goes on in some corners of the pumpkin patch.

My wife showed me a picture back in the very beginnings of our hanging out together showing a child draped over her father’s giant pumpkin, a whopping 165 pounder. It was not long after that when I first read the name Howard Dill in, I believe, Organic Gardening. Dill’s claim to fame was that he had grown a 439 pound pumpkin, eventually patenting the results of his breeding program as Atlantic Giant seeds, His final largest pumpkin, per Wikipedia, weighed in at 459 pounds.

In the ensuing years, giant pumpkin growing seemed to become quite popular with weigh-ins being held yearly in several strategic locations. A local gardener actually had one of the main heavyweights a dozen or so years back at 1 565 pounds, but I don’t believe it was a record. This morning in the Guardian, I was confronted with a whole tale of this year’s big pumpkin results, always interesting, and it lead to some thoughts about what these growers are accomplishing and some parallels to other areas of human endeavour.

For decades, the weather service in the U.S. was supported by a network of citizen observers and chroniclers who faithfully filed data with the service, building an enormous data base for the study of weather patterns and climate, though this may have fallen by the wayside as populations got more mobile and as satellite data became available to fulfil the same function as the citizen observers. We have a network of air quality sensors around many communities in the province, and I’m sure that similar efforts are in place around the globe. but these networks are much more structured than the pumpkin breeding folks, and it speaks well for the hive mentality that results on the current scale have been achieved over a relatively short span and with minimal outside coaxing. Perhaps the greatest influence here is the lack of profit motive, derived from the growers’ sense that this is a fun and worthwhile past time, and that money shouldn’t enter into it.

Would that our medical and pharmaceutical research might be conducted on the same basis, where research would be funded, but not for profit, where the benefits could be universally available, and where publication wouldn’t be a smoke screen to hide flaws and downstream consequences in aid of turning a buck in the meantime.

Environmental Clarity

 

A fellow climate campaigner circulated this link as worthy of an hour’s reading time:

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/environmentalists-what-are-we-fighting-for-an-environmentalist-argues-it-s-not-clear-1.4917208

The lede:

Environmental problems are well-known and have been for decades, but we still appear to be edging toward a global catastrophe. Why?

Environmentalist Graham Saul believes that part of the problem is environmentalism itself. He argues it has a message problem — mainly because it doesn’t have a single, coherent, unified message that people can grasp.”

Certainly, there is a multiplicity of views on what constitutes the length and breadth of the perceptions of how we got where we are, and likely an equal plethora of prescriptions on how to bail ourselves out of the corner into which we seem to have painted ourselves. Even within the confines of our little community, there are several groups working to address questions relating to the environment without necessarily arriving at a consensus on the whys and wherefores as well as a direction to solution.

Does this mean that we’re doomed to failure? Will our lack of a unified and clarified message doom our efforts to enlist a broader swath of society in efforts to stabilize what we have set a-kilter?

I would like to offer a couple of analogies that seem relevant, the first somewhat silly and of dubious origin, the second perhaps more pertinent and certainly more thoughtful.

My wife brought a very fancy pasta maker in 1983, and part of the promotional material for the machine touted the fact that, despite the difficulty of getting Italians to agree on anything, this machine was universally accepted the length and breadth of the country. Imagine that!

The second insight was from a book called A Fair Country, by John Ralston Saul, published in 2008, in which Saul posited that there are three pillars of culturak tradition in Canada, the French, the English, and First Nations, and that one of the tenets of First Nations culture that has tempered the effect of fervent opinion in Canada (as opposed to the fiery hai-triggeer revolutionary spirit of the United States) is the longer perspective of First Nations culture and the willingness of First Nations to tolerate a higher level of unresolved ambiguity.

Based on this outlook, I would argue that we ought not get overly exercised in the quest for perfection of clarity in our message. I see this in contemporary readings where some will advocate for the immediate dissolution of the capitalist system at the base of our society, while others, equally implicated in efforts to put our living space back together, will argue that it’s imperative that we enlist to the cause those constituencies traditionally hostile to considerations of the environment, advocates of free-market economics and some communities of faith. Where there is no consensus among the recognized environmental leaders on such questions, it seems unlikely that we will do any better locally or regionally, and that perhaps we ought to shift our focus to actions that will lead to better outcomes and accept that there are multiple ways to both look at the process and to work toward resolution.

If This Is Tuesday…

 

…it might be a good day for a couple of not-so-random thoughts.

Making Pulp?

Over at National Observer, there is an article about avoiding the use of trees in the manufacture of pulp and paper products by substituting the vast quantities of wheat straw for the usual complement of trees harvested in the forests of the Northwest. Eastern Washington State is the location of some of the most ridiculously fertile soil on the planet, to the point where I recall reading about farmers having to develop strains of wheat that were less prone to tall growth because the nutrient level in that part of the world meant that normal strains would grow too tall and collapse on themselves. However, fertility, we know, is to forever and must be maintained and reinforced wherever possible. Most of the current literature I’ve read would suggest that the more biomass you leave on the land, the better the soil health will be in the long run and the better will also be both crop yield and quality, other factors being equal. So the use of wheat straw for paper product may save trees, but it’s likely to the detriment of soil quality, and much of that quality, according to the Savoury Institute and other forward-looking groups, lies in the embedded carbon in the soil, to wit, soils have at least as much potential as carbon sinks as forests. On the face of it, this article seems like something positive in the effort to rein in climate disruption, but misses the real point in that we will likely have to forego the use of a lot of the paper products so ubiquitous in our everyday existence so as to sacrifice neither forest nor field to the gods of consumption.

Shades of Colonel Batguano

(…a nod to Dr. Strangelove, as pertinent as ever, just not here and now, but it’s my post!)

Meanwhile, a fellow transitioner posted this link on Facebook to an article in Hakai Magazine about the valuable role that bird guano plays in maintaining fertility in ecosystems.

Birds Do It…

 

“We wanted to inform the general public about the importance of seabirds and the value they provide for humans,” says Daniel Plazas Jimenez, a PhD candidate at the Federal University of Goiás in Brazil who studies food chains and coauthored the paper, published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution. But the value that seabirds provide to world ecosystems is much greater, Jimenez adds—a powerful argument for seabird preservation.”

So, again, while farmers can use guano to raise crops, and while the Chileans and Peruvians may have fought a war with the Spaniards over the stuff (it was also a source of nitrogen for the manufacture of explosives), nature itself likely provides greater benefit to humans and the rest of the biosphere than any dollar amount derived from the extraction and application of guano.

We are often asked by those proponents of the status quo to turn off our energy-intense furnaces, get all the plastic out of our abodes, forego any transport that uses any fossil fuels and go back to living life in the Stone Age if we wish to curtail the current régime of extraction and consumption without bothering to mention that their patrons have for decades actively blocked any sort of a transition to a paradigm that might allow for the survival of human civilization into the next century. Our task, and the task for all our friends in the fossil fuel/extraction industrial base, is to envision a future where there is at least a sufficiency of necessities for everyone, and, hopefully, a plenitude of whatever we need to survive, thrive and prosper without soiling our own nest and while protecting and nurturing the rest of the biosphere.

 

 

…and I miss the Mound of Sound.

Happy Birthday to A Very Special Young Lady

Grand daughter’s sixteenth birthday. Loved by all her family (with the sometime exception of her brother, but, hey, someone has to be the foil).

Visionary? Really?

 

Last fall i had occasion to be on the UBC campus for the first time in a decade and the visit was revelatory. The view I had of the campus had been almost entirely submerged in new construction, and a whole new city had sprung up on the Endowment Lands to the south of campus, including the rising spires of the temples to real estate speculation. My guide, who taught at BCIT and who lives in one of the older developments on the EL, pointed out that only full-time tenured faculty could actually afford the rents/mortgages in the neighbourhood. So I had to have a rueful laugh at a headline on the landing page of the Times-Colonist this morning mourning the passing of the real estate visionary who revolutionized UBC housing. I suspect that the visions were likely that of pecuniary symbolism pasted on his eyeballs.

What’s Old Is Still Old

…but it often keeps resurfacing.

 

Camus, himself

Long ago, in student days, I read a couple of plays by Albert Camus, Caligula and Le malentendu, each of which dealt with some fairly weighty questions that get left out of most of the day-to-day conversation. With thoughts of a couple of other Camus pieces (Noces and L’été) that had shown me a side of the author not generally acknowledged (reflections of sun-drenched vistas and the general beauty offered by nature, however indifferent or absurd that nature might be), I plunked down some serious coin for a Pleïade edition of the man’s complete works and invest some time in broadening that horizon while keeping some language skills activated.

Caligula

 

As is often the case with works read in the deep past, the reader’s perspective will have morphed through piled up time and experience, and such is the case with Caligula, a ruler who has forsaken the conventions for his own individual struggle with a lack of limits, something that rings true with a number of authoritarian administrations, yet only partially in the case of our own Mr. Trump (he is a product of a confused and twisted world, and therefore belongs to all of us). The big difference between Trump and his Roman analog is that Caligula is fully conscious of who he is, what he is doing, and the nature of his relationship to those he rules. As devastating as Caligula’s rule might have seemed at the time, the threats to civilization posed by Trump and his associates are, if you’ll pardon a smarmy Camusian observation, existential.

And I’m sure it’s an utter coincidence that I arrived at this particular spot in Camus’ oeuvre at this juncture in the Trump narrative (impeachment, assassination of the top Iranian military figure).

Help! I Can’t Keep Up!

Snowed Under Photo by Medena Rosa on Unsplash

I’m feeling snowed under. Aside from some recreational reading (C.J. Sansom at the moment), some long-time head-scratching (Les oeuvres complètes de Camus, Éditions de la Pléïade) and the usual daily read-around on the Net, there are particular bits of interest that keep popping up and fighting for time in the midst of family considerations, gardening (indoors, thus far, mostly) and playing a little music on the side.

An e-mail from the Post Carbon Institute sent me off to this (you’ll need to leave a name and valid e-mail address) on an emerging aspect of the transformation that will be necessary for humanity to progress and thrive. Bring it on!

A regular read-around site is the Blog Borg Collective who posted a piece  by Robin Matthews, a veteran of the Bas, Bas and Virk BC Rail slog. And now I see they’ve added a bit about Andrew Wilkinson and his wacky period of renting. OK, I can do that.

Then Facebook, I think via the South Africa Food Tank group, coughs up something like this, a likely way to kill off another hour or so, at least. Hmmm.

Let’s add this to the pile, via a friend and further to a discussion relating to Transitions Health Check.

I get notes from Corey Robin about interesting discussions around and about intellectuals in places somewhat more steeped in intellectual activity than my present abode. So this appeared this morning. I’m not sure I want to spend the morning with Friedrich Hayek, but the perspective is important.

There were a couple of articles on The Tyee this morning more than worthy of reading in depth (my call).

And then there are volumes of Youtube video discussions along these lines to add to the heap.

Have you ever felt like a gum-chewing teen standing on the threshold of an outlet mall?

Is a pattern emerging? The bad news is that there is so much commentary because there is such a litany of misdeeds and malfeasance in all levels of society and in almost all areas of endeavour. The good news is that there are so many people concerned enough for the welfare of other people and that of society in general to run down the stories and to put them in front of those who will listen.

Sadly, there just isn’t time to do it all. Please consider taking up the task and supporting those already hard at work correcting what ails us.

Now I had better get after all this good stuff.

 

 

 

 

Medena Rosa