The Many Versions of the Werewolf Tale

I was in the Basque speaking area of Navarra last weekend, up in the hills.

Very green.

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We went to visit a museum made by a very interesting guy called Iñaki Perurena, whose famous in the region for having Guinness World Records for lifting stones, among other things.

He has some amazing sculptures and lots of interesting paintings of characters from Basque Mythology on huge rocks dotted through the woods.

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The Basques have a lot of strange characters that live in the woods. A much richer diversity than the simple fairy and leprechauns of Ireland, to be honest.

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They have a type of Faun, mermaids, goblins, their own Santa Claus character, a cyclops, giants…

And…. another creature who you might bump into while walking the woods in such remote areas where houses are separated by large tracts of land, and visiting your neighbour involves a trek up a mountain.

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Gizotso, is werewolf  in Basque, and is said to be an extremely strong savage beast that lives in the woods and is made by sexual intercourse between humans and wild animals.

I’ve a long-held interest in werewolves, of course, and my kids speak Basque in school, but I’d not heard of this particular thread of the great tapestry of werewolf tales.

It’s fascinating how many different versions there are of this story. One of the things that unite all human societies are the similarities in our fireside tales of others who live just outside the light spread by our hearths. And the werewolf is perhaps the most ubiquitous of all, more than even the dragon.

At the same time, it’s disturbing how easily every society can alienate others and reduce them to the status of “savage animals.”

Perhaps it not so difficult to see how such stories of werewolves can spring forth in our imagination from simple ingredients such as deep woods, woodland dwellers, people we don’t like, and people we desire.

Of course, nowadays, nobody believes in werewolves.

 

 

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The Hedgehog and the Tiger

My son is three and a big fan of animals. We read a lot of animal books… He’s seen lots of animals on the farm and in the zoo. But others, well, let’s say we haven’t bumped into them yet.

 

The Hedgehog and the Tiger

 

Flipping through children’s books, each

Bucolic page fairy-tale picturesque:

Rare as hen’s teeth to see a hen in

The same frame as a cow or pig;

More common to see the cage. A

Cow in a sunlit meadow would

Count its blessings if it could ken

Cattle mass confined in feeding pens.

 

Yet, becoming just as false are

Pictures of our wildlife: brilliant

Butterflies and ladybirds, snails

Spiralling, to lions and giraffes,

Explaining to our children, the

Tiger and elephant, zebra and gnu,

Knowing at least they’ll watch the

Lion King, and visit the zoo, where

These species might cling to existence

In spite of our infantile delight in

Destroying our environment. But

 

What of furry foxes, squirrels,

Badgers and newts, other cute

Denizens of our hedgerows and

Fields? How do we describe these?

Who’s seen a hedgehog in a decade,

Or ever encountered an otter

Of an evening? May as well have an

Irish mole on the page, a polecat, or

Mink, for all the meeting and greeting

Our kids will have with these as

They disappear from all around us,

Unseen and unobserved, unremarked

And impossible to explain when asked.

 

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Not an Irish mole, but even in Spain, it’s hard to actually see one of these children’s book favourites. This my second ever, a victim of the road like so many hedgehogs. The first one I saw was alive – I rescued it from a dog!

 

I wrote this poem a few weeks ago. I was reminded of it the other day when my wife read an headline about Barcelona Zoo, which is going to change after the city council decided it would have to end reproduction of animals not endangered nor capable of being released into the wild. The number of species will dwindle as individuals die or are moved out. Considering the above, perhaps some wild animals that we citizens never bump into any more would be useful for the folks of Barcelona to become familiar with. Perhaps soon enough those once familiar small mammals will be endangered themselves…

Wildlife… it’s just too much work.

In light of the UN report on species extinction just unveiled, many people are talking about how worrying it is that we have so many species close to the brink of annihilation due to our activities.

And at the same time, it’s hard to move people towards doing very much in the way of helping reverse the trend.

Nature is seen as something outside our own environments, nowadays. It’s an abstract idea, or at best something we visit. We’ve become used to not having it especially present in our daily lives. Even a fly entering a classroom is viewed as an event.

And because we’ve gotten used to living without nature, we don’t value it very much, and often see it as an inconvenience.

Where we do allow it to exist in our city, it must be controlled and tidy.

Pamplona is a very green city, with plenty of parks and farmland around us, and mountains visible from almost every street, yet even here, wildlife must conform. The ducks in the park have few places to nest because any undergrowth is cleared, the scrub needed to house any other birds than pigeons, sparrows, magpies and a few blackbirds is practically non-existent outside building lots left abandoned until the apartments pop up in new neighbourhoods.

Take a simple city lawn. As soon as the dandelions bloom it’s time to mow. Citizens complain if the city is slow to mow, since the seed heads look untidy.

I passed a lawn full of dandelions, daisies and clover yesterday.

There wasn’t a bee to be seen. The horse chestnut trees are blooming right now, their scent amazing. But there are very few bees to be seen or heard pollenating them.

 

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a large copse of horse chestnuts full of blooms, but I saw more trees than bees in the five minutes I stood watching. Note the absence of any undergrowth.

Coincidentally, upon arriving home, my neighbours warned me of a swarm which had just settled on the Persian blinds of a nearby (empty) flat, and were going to call the city council to come and remove them. It’s all right having some bees up high in a tree, but down here amongst the houses, they induce fear.

I don’t know where bees used to live in cities, but there were more of them, and they must have lived somewhere. Now, though most people appreciate the work of bees, a hive is only acceptable outside our daily surroundings.

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the dark patch on the very top of the blind is a swarm of bees slowly moving into the space for the Persian blinds to roll up into.

The local newspaper has been busy talking about a bear recently released in France which has the temerity to enter Navarra and attack some sheep flocks. The bears have declined in the western part of the Pyrenees to such an extent that only two males, father and son survive. Two females from Slovenia are hoped to start saving the population, but bears are only tolerated if they stay well away from humans and their buildings.

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There might be some basic understanding that bears should not go extinct in the Pyrenees, though they are close to that right now. Bears are still tolerated in the Picos de Europa, further west of Navarra, but here the local farmers’ union is opposed to this attempt and recovering/rewildling/conservation/call-it-what-you-like-putting-bears-ahead-of-sheep.

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The first photo is today’s back page of the local paper. I will translate the last few lines… the farmers union call on the Navarra Government to ….. “demand the French authorities cease their actions of reintroducing a wild species in a humanized terrain. “We are not in Yellowstone,” they conclude.

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What else can one say about that?

Nothing comes to mind that I could print in that paper.

Bears, you might say, are a pretty big nuisance when they want to be.

They kill sheep, which, whatever one’s personal opinions of them, are the basis of a type of farming that some still cling to. And I will grant that, despite my immediate question as to how they’re alive and thriving in Asturias and Slovenia – surely they’re an inconvenience there, but a tolerated one, by farmers who are used to doing a bit more work to look after their stock.

And yet, another iconic species is also slowly disappearing in Navarra, according to the same local paper.

Storks.

Now, doesn’t love storks?

They bring us babies, they don’t attack sheep…

And yet, their population is declining in Navarra, too.

Why?

Because they are annoying, inconvenient.

Or at least, their nests are.

So nests are destroyed in the towns and cities where they’ve traditionally nested. Some have made nests in large trees, where these are still available – it’s common for mature trees to be heavily pruned in cities, and really old ones are felled as soon as they show signs of rot for fear of falling and causing damage or injury.

And a pair that can’t build a nest is a pair that has to go elsewhere, or doesn’t breed.

There are seven fewer pairs than last year, for a total of 939.

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This photo is from the linked article, taken in an abandoned factory. When this is demolished, where will the storks nest?

There are many reasons for our ecosystems collapsing. Wilful destruction, wilful ignorance, and wilful rejection of any inconvenience it might mean to our lives. The last is what most of us will be guilty of.

A Poems about Farms and Wildlife

 

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They don’t have to be mutually exclusive…. an orchard with flowers underfoot.

 

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But sometimes farmers feel that they have to plough every patch their tractors fit into, for fear those flowers take energy away from the apples and nuts.

 

Thoughts on seeing a recently-cleaned water pond on Saint Patrick’s Day

 

On a Sunday, the seventeenth, I went for a walk in the countryside about the village.

I walked along the hedges, trimmed now in March before the birds came come along and put a fly in a farmer’s plans.

I paused over an old walled water pond, for the vegetable plot, to perhaps look upon a frog, or salamander.

It was scrubbed clean. The concrete pale below the clear water reflecting the crystal blue.

Not a boatman stroked across the surface, ne’er a leaf lay upon the bottom to hide a frog or newt.

For what would a farmer do with silt? A streamlined machine these fields, these springs,

And cleanliness is next to godliness, of course. The wild world was sterilised of sprits in favour of clean sheets.

The dragons were already gone before Saint Patrick stepped upon a snake.

A day will come when none of us will see one, no matter where we seek.

 

Of course, the day seems to be coming faster than we feared, with the new  UN report about to come out today, Monday, declaring that a million species are about to go extinct if we don’t turn this shit, sorry ship, around toot sweet, as they say.

Which is terribly hard to tell your kids when they ask at the age of eight.

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I didn’t take a photo of the empty pond, but I did help this lad across the road a few days later after some long-awaited rain.

 

 

From further away

I wrote a blog post – a poem, really – about watching the planet from a distance. We sometimes think that what we have around us is of utmost importance, but it’s probably not, it’s just a jot in time.

Well, as I read the book, Against the Grain, and I see that civilisations fall almost as often as they spring up from the sweat of their subjects. I am feeling less attached to this one we are currently living in.

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Read this book. It basically says what you’ve probably been thinking. Farming wasn’t a great leap forward, it was forced upon us.

The history of our planet is basically people doing bad things to other people and species to keep themselves in the lap of luxury if at all possible.

The last century is an anomaly in giving any power (superficial though of course it is) to the common man (or woman, if she’s really lucky.)

If we see all the stuff written about past civilisations, all dug up from the ruins, often when those now living in those places have no idea about them, no memory, no stories, just some stones they might have found and used as foundations for their own houses, we see how fragile, how faint is the mark of these societies, really. They disappeared most of the time.

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These ruins were only found in 2016, but now it’s thought they’re from a civilisation that once controlled a region of India near Myanmar (see link above). Did anyone miss them? Not at all.

So what if we disappear too?

In the past, the people subjugated by these states didn’t all die – many or most escaped back to a former type of life, and were probably happier for it, definitely better off in terms of diet and health. So why lament the demise of the rulers?

I don’t.

I live in this world, of course. I am dependent upon it. If it were all to disappear tomorrow – as I said back on New Years Eve 1999, when we wondered if the Year 2000 bug would stop the world – then I’d be dead in a matter of months. I can’t just walk away from the status quo, go and grow beans and catch animals. I am attached to the technology for life, and though I teach my children about wildlife which might help them when the cities are destroyed, my daughter is equally diabetic and unless I learn how to distil insulin from dead deer and rabbits, we’ll be as dead as anyone else when the disaster hits.

But people will survive.

Some will walk away, south or north where the weather is better. Humanity will continue, just as it did after the collapse of other societies. Some people will remember how to live outside the shelter of our cities and society. Apart from the plastic everywhere, this small snapshot of history will become as forgotten as the rest.

Our descendants, if we have them, will build their cities on top of ours, like we have on others, so our buildings will be discovered accidentally some day like we find the remains of the Roman walls and medieval castles when we dig out subterranean car parks.

The beech trees will survive, shifting north and south, possibly all the way to Antarctica, where they once grew before during a time when the world had a similar atmospheric CO2level to today. Most of the other plants will probably struggle on, too, though much of the fauna will die out, to be replaced eventually in time by other species.

It’s a real fucking pity, a goddam waste, that we allow this to happen. It’s stupid, stupid, stupid, to quote some fuckwit from the annals of insurance fraud. The age of stupid, like the documentary.

We could keep the world looking the way we want it if we move our asses.

To allow it to change from how it suits us is like letting the house burn down because you’re too lazy to pick up a fire extinguisher.

I remember visiting Niagara Falls years ago, and being told that the quantity of water allowed to flow is much reduced not just to produce electricity, but to ensure that erosion doesn’t move the falls upstream – which would mean having to move the viewing platforms from where they are now. And that would be silly.

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this is from 1969, when the American side of the Falls were stopped flowing completely to purposefully fix faults to prevent erosion.

If that kind of sense was applied to our current problems, we would see a lot more action on the climate change front.

Our society might have a sea-change in our economic activities, but it will be unnoticeable on a grand scale, just like the difference between agriculture in England growing turnips in the 18thcentury is indistinguishable from growing grain in Egypt two thousand years ago.

But moving London, Alexandria, Miami and all those other seaside towns kilometres inland will be a major change that will be seen clearly in the archaeological record of our planet.

 

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the blue bits, as you might imagine, are those under sea level… hopefully we won’t get to this. But it’s reckoned that once we get to 4˚C, then it will go up to 6 or 9 by itself.

And because we won’t be around to explain it, they’ll be confused as fuck as to how stupid we were. Stupider than Easter Islanders.

It’s Time…

It’s Time; for Parenting on a Grander Scale

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Remember those alarms going off? There are many alarms going off nowadays…

“Money, it’s a gas,” said Pink Floyd a long time ago. They sang about Time, too, and Time is Money, so they say.

They’re all granddads, now, Pink Floyd, those of the band who are still alive.

I’ve been thinking of Time, Money and Grandparents recently.

This blog post is about all three, and directed at the latter.

My own parents are grandparents of course; my daughter recently had her eight birthday. My parents sent her money to buy LOL dolls – in my opinion the perfect example of our modern consumerism addiction; have a look at one being opened on YouTube to see how we are manipulated by marketing departments. Her grandparents who live here, with whom she spends every Wednesday afternoon, also gave her money to buy these dolls, of which she has a dozen already.

It’s this consumerism I am trying to avoid, for my kids, and for the kids of the world. And the key, kinda, is exactly in their grandparents.

My mother says she buys these toys nowadays because when my siblings and I were young she didn’t have the money to afford them for us.

But nowadays I can afford all these silly bits of plastic myself, if I chose to give them to my children.

And what can my parents (and in-laws) give my kids that I can’t so much, that parents of our generation with our two-salary mortgages have in short supply?

Time.

What my parents had, at least my mother, to give us when we were small was time.

And it’s the time we all remember.

I remember being picked up by one granddad, getting porridge when he took me to their house to wait for my mother. I remember watching him gardening, going into his aviary, and he died when I was about 8. I remember going shopping and having tea and biscuits (custard crèmes, of course) in my granny’s house all through to my teens. I had motorbike rides up and down the cul-de-sac with my other granddad while he was still allowed to have one. I do remember getting some pocket money from them, but I can’t recall a single thing I did with that money.

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This is what a Honda 50 looked like. That’s not my granddad, but it’s close enough, bar the bale of hay on the back. That was where I’d sit.

My grandparents were all old by the time I came along. Everyone was older back then.

Nowadays, grandparents have an ever more special place in their grandkids lives. Many are looking after them full-time while the parents work. They’re often basically second set’s of parents.

That might sound harsh for the working parents.

In fact, this is an amazing opportunity.

We all know that we had better childhoods than our kids do nowadays. We were outdoors from dawn to dusk, getting up to our ears in mud and all that.

Well, instead of having them stuck on the sofa all afternoon, grandparents can show the kids the things that we did when we were kicked out of the house – that they themselves, their parents and grandparents and all the generations before them did before kids suddenly stopped going outside in the last couple of decades.

Get dirty, climb trees, mess around in the muck.

You don’t have to wash the clothes!

What are your kids going to do? Get mad at you because they have to put on a washing machine? Who doesn’t wash their kids clothes after every use anyway?

Are they going to find another child-minder? Yeah. Exactly.

It might seem a challenge to take the screens away from some kids – that’s the parent’s job, and you don’t want to fight with your grandkids. You want them to be happy to see you. True. Talk to your kids. Make them leave the screens at home, or locked up while at work.

After a few weeks without being glued to their tablet or telephone, the children will thank you for the great fun they had in the park, at the beach, in the forests. Bring them to a golf course if they’re old enough. Anything to get them out of the house.

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You don’t actually have to get the kids dirty. Bloody perhaps… but none of us ever learned to ride a bike with a helmet!

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you don’t have to be very old to play golf. Though it does help!

 

When it’s your grandchildren’s birthday, take them on a field trip, a weekend away, a boat ride, a train journey, an adventure park. Gift them money towards a plane ticket if you really want to – not to Disneyland, but to a campsite in the south of France, or the Alps, a hiking holiday in the Pyrenees, fishing in Connemara. Anywhere they’ll have an experience that will serve them in the future when they are adults, that will make them stronger, calmer, more patient, more thoughtful.  Experiences they can look back on and draw on.

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It’s a cliche, cos it’s bloody true! These are the moments a life is made of.

You know they shouldn’t be inside.

You know they would be better people, happier, more resilient, more understanding of suffering and its relative importance if they climbed a few trees, fell off a few walls.

And please, please, don’t say, “They’re not my children.”

They are. They’re everybody’s children. They’re our future.

They’ll remember the events, not the trinkets.

 

Fashion!

How is everyone managing after the change to “summer time?” I’m suffering from the early mornings myself, since it happened in Europe last weekend. Of course, I’m not against daylight savings time, as long as if and when it’s stopped we stick with the correct time we should have according to our longitude.

In fact, I’d go further, as I wrote in my poem on the subject, which I posted a few years back,

In the poem I hypothesise about a future where businessmen don’t have to wear suits in summer to cut down on air conditioning use – much worse than a few extra light bulbs if we didn’t have daylight savings time.

And that brings me to an article I read the other day about the end of the man’s suit.

Coincidentally, I wrote a blogpost a few years back about the man’s suit, how it’s not going to disappear anytime soon, given that it hasn’t changed in centuries.

But perhaps I was wrong.

The article says that “Goldman Sachs became the latest of many firms to issue new guidelines on work dress codes, allowing more flexibility – male employees can ditch the suit for chinos and loosen their ties.”

Halleluiah!

A welcome change.

Of course, I’d be happier if what replaces it is not some new fashion, but the same jeans most of the humans in the western world have been wearing for a century when they weren’t wearing suits.

I have a basic distaste for fashion, in its continually changing design and colour of clothes which many people conform to necessitating updating their wardrobe and consequently disposing of clothes that are perfectly serviceable and wasting resources and money on new clothes that will see the same fate.

I hate buying new clothes. I hate shopping, better said. I like buying new stuff, but I also love getting the most out of what I have. I patch, I darn (well, I do something akin to closing a hole in a sock) and I glue.

I’ve a current problem with jeans seemingly been made to wear out within six months. It’s like Calvin Klein has been taking a leaf out of Apple’s book and embedding ? programmed obsolescence in cloth. I have not bought a pair of jeans that haven’t ripped in the arse in five years. I never remember that problem before, and I’ve been riding bikes my whole life.

Do clothes designers really need my money so much that they make me buy what I’d disinclined to buy because I am immune to their adverts?

Thus is our world destroyed.

I am also reminded of the lines from that fashion movie, The Devil Wears Prada, where Miranda goes on a tirade about the blue jumper her minion is wearing, how it’s been made because she decided blue was in last season blah blah.

 

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go on, insult my jumper. Just because it’s not green?

What the movies doesn’t go on to say is that the intern would not go and buy a new cheap jumper in TJ Max the next winter. She’d wear the same cheap jumper and she’d keep wearing it till it got so old that it had to be replaced by whatever the prima donnas of the fashion world had deemed was in three seasons before. And that would take a long time. I have jumpers I still wear that I am wearing in photos taken fifteen years ago, nearly twenty in some cases. I don’t say that because I am proud of wearing worn out old shit that makes me look like a vagabond, but because they still look the same as when I bought them, and if I looked okay in them then, then there’s no reason to think I don’t look good in them now if they’re still in good repair. Clothes either look good on you or they don’t. If they are only going to look good on you for a season, then perhaps we shouldn’t buy them. That’s why the suit has taken so long to disappear – it simply looks good all the time. Jeans look good all the time, tee-shirts and jumpers too. That’s why Doc Martens are back in. Everyone has a pair they never threw out. Some kept wearing them. Of course, an industry would die a little if we were all to stop treating clothes like plastic water bottles. But what does this industry do that’s so good? What does it do that’s quite terrible? The list for the latter question is longer.

Growing cotton is a destructive activity, for the soil, for the insects, for the atmosphere. We all want to reduce waste, to lower our carbon emissions. Eating less meat, using public transport, flying less. And buying fewer clothes.

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For a crop that is as dry as cotton, it sure needs a lot of water.

 

Feel proud to walk out of a store without a shopping bag.

It’s a feeling you’ll grow to love.

 

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we all need clothes. But the quality we buy can make a crucial difference…

 

 

  Don’t give Greta Thunberg a Nobel Prize

Last Friday, as hundreds of thousands of kids stayed away from school to protest the inaction of the world’s politicians on tackling the imminent crisis of global climate breakdown, there were headlines that Greta Thunberg, the girl who inspired all those students, and a heap of adults into the bargain, was nominated to receive this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

I believe, however, that the Nobel committee should not award her the prize.

Not now.

I am not saying she does not deserve a Nobel Prize

She does.

But she should not get it now.

And I think she’d agree. Because Greta Thunberg doesn’t want a Nobel Peace Prize.

I will say straight off that I’ve never spoken to Greta Thunberg. I have no inside knowledge of her thoughts, hopes dreams or opinions.

But I think that if she ever reads this she’ll agree, at least with most of what I’m about to say.

She doesn’t want the Nobel Prize.

She wants climate action.

She is not sitting in the cold and rain of Stockholm every Friday dreaming of an accolade.

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She didn’t decide to make her life harder and studies more difficult by staying out of school on Fridays but keeping up with her work by knuckling down on Saturdays instead because she thought it might get her some international fame and everyone would hail her as the salvation of, if not mankind, and the rest of the extant species on this planet, then at least our civilisation, as far as it’s worth saving.

She is doing all this to ensure she has a future.

That we all have a future.

A million dollars might be a nice thing to have to in your back pocket. It could help her go to Harvard or some other stupidly expensive college in countries where there is no free education – though I suspect very college on the planet will he happy to have Greta enrol, free of charge.

But even were she to keep it in her back pocket – and I’ve serious doubts about that – a million bucks is fuck all use in a world that has been shat upon by climate breakdown.

It’s hard to imagine what million dollars might buy to ensure survival in a world devastated by climate breakdown because we don’t know how that’s going to turn out. Perhaps she could buy farms in her native country and grow grapes, if anyone could afford wine, or perhaps melt water from Greenland will block the Gulf stream and Scandinavia will be as bad as Labrador is now for viniculture.

Nobody knows what’s in store.

We only know it would be different to how things are now.

But I digress.

Greta, and everyone following her example is hoping we have the same world we have now, complete with school exams, universities, functioning farms and forests to visit on the weekend.

None of this is certain, however, for the simple reason that our politicians are too busy sucking up to those so rich that they’ve already bought farmland in several northern countries, have already secured a clean water supply for their children and grandkids, and are ready to reap more money from our collective destruction that they’ve not done what they signed up to do – work for our collective good.

And until it is certain, this future we dream of nowadays where we get to live just like our parents did, living to retirement age, enjoying a few years of sitting in the garden, watching the flowers grow and the bees visit them, then Greta isn’t going to be satisfied with any accolade you could award her.

When she has done what she has sent out to do: ensured that her government and other governments do what they need to do, have promised to do – secure our collective survival – then I’m sure she will gladly accept the Prize.

Until then, it’s just a distraction, and, to be honest, it feels like a ploy, a bribe, a pat on the head and a “go along with you now and play, Greta, but well done for the effort, and sure we’ll look after things from here.”

 

Or am I wrong?

 

school strikes this Friday morning

 

 

You know when you have that day that you just don’t want to work?

Okay, who the hell ever wants to work, right?

But really, when you just can’t motivate yourself to tackle the pile of stuff you have waiting to be attended to. Even though you’re sitting right there in the office, staring at it, with no other option than to sit there staring at it for the next few hours.

 

I’ve been feeling like that the last few days.

I can’t concentrate. Work (English and science classes, and the piles of paperwork that go with being a teacher in Spain) is just a sword of Damocles hanging over my head that I am wilfully ignoring.

Oh, I got to classes, talk to the kids, but I turn up and ask them what we were doing in the last class, or I rely on my colleagues to tell me what we are doing in our shared conversation classes, and get some kid to do the photocopies while I fill time.

Though the filling time I do is not just filling time.

I have been talking to my students about the Global Student Climate Strikes that are planned for tomorrow. I ask them if they’ve heard about #FridaysforFuture, about Greta Thunberg, about the student protests that have been happening across Europe in the last few months.

Most of them hadn’t heard of it.

I try to get them interested in it, get them to understand the stakes, the reasons they should join in.

Because I really think they should.

Because I can’t.

And that last sentence is a kind of lie.

But for years I’ve been following the climate change problem grow, like so many others, with a sense of foreboding, of frustration and helplessness/hopelessness that threatens to overwhelm.

And at the back of my mind here has been for a long time the suggestion that I should do something about it. Me. Get out and shout and scream and smash some faces in.

I was going to say smash windows, but I know that would be stupid. That kind of protest has the wrong effect. And I am not a smashing windows kind of guy.

But there are some faces that deserve to be punched.

We know who they are.

Those people who deserve to have their lives impacted by our anger, because our lives and the future of our children’s lives are impacted by their greed, their avarice, or their incompetence.

We all know that our world is being fucked over by a tiny number of individuals who could be overthrown if only we could find the collective gumption to do so.

I’m not a face-smashing kind of guy either.

I don’t know if it’s that I don’t like hurting people, even if they deserve it, or I’m worried that I’ll get my own face smashed back in return. But something prevents me from taking the extreme action that increasingly seems necessary to get any movement on this issue.

 

I’ve spent years teaching students about climate change, from back when it was called global warming. It’s just one of the things a biology teacher explains.

When I teach volcanoes there aren’t many examples to use. Mount Saint Helens, Hawaii. We still talk about Krakatoa.

Not with climate change.

Every time it comes up in the curriculum I have a new example to use to drive it home to students. Heat wave after hurricane, forest fires after floods after ice sheet breaking off….

Every year, I have to tell my students that nothing is getting done. That we aren’t doing what we did with the Ozone Hole and CFCs.

And I still tell them that.

But now, at least I can tell them to do something. That what I can’t do because of my stupid fears and worries about what people will think if I do stand outside a parliament and hold a sign, or stand up in a parliament and shout at the stupid politicians for their having their noses up the arse of multinationals and vulture funds and fears of being arrested and having my bosses decide I’m not trustworthy enough to be in charge of minors, is right now being done by a young girl in Sweden, who doesn’t give a monkeys what the politicians, or hardly anyone else for that matter, might think about her, and the thousands of other children following her example across Europe.

Standing up and shouting bullshit. Like other kids in other countries for other reasons before them.

And I got some kids to listen. I got one to petition the school to get permission to strike tomorrow. I helped him a little – but just a little, because I can’t pretend this is my fight: I already failed to fight, to put my fists up, to roll up my sleeves, dammit – and he got the school behind him.

But the principal says he, nor any student, can have permission to strike because the strike is nothing to do with Education. Apparently in Spain you can strike if the government wants to change the law to take your PE class away, but not if the government wants to piss away your entire future.

I hope some of our kids do strike.

I hope the teachers and the administration of the school see the news tomorrow.

I hope to hell the news shows the strikes – the media aren’t too much into this, apart from doing their bit to get some face time with Greta.

And I hope next Friday more just walk out.

Because they don’t need permission from anyone to fight for their future.

They deserve our support.

But they’re not looking for it.

We already failed them.

We can now only make amends.

The Fear of Fewer Humans

I listened to a radio show talking about a book just out, called Empty Planet.

 

Yes, it was about the potential problems of the shrinking population it predicts will happen before the end of the century.

I listened to it, and there was some pushback from a UN demographer saying that it wasn’t going to contract so quickly, and in fact a ballooning population would occur first.

But even if it does happen, if we don’t go to 11 billion – I can’t believe that we are even saying that when we have so many problems already with 7.

So what?

What’s the problem?

 

There are several pundits worried about population shrinking as a disaster. They use the words dire, crisis, timebomb, drastic effects.

People talk about population reduction as if we are going to suddenly disappear from the face of the planet.

We won’t disappear

The world wasn’t empty when there were a billion humans. There were enough for a fucking world war or two. The worst flu epidemic in history killed tens of millions and the world kept going on, with hardly a blip on our population.

The world wasn’t empty in the nineteenth century and we were inventing cars and telephones and all that stuff.

Some of the drastic effects outlined here are about one country losing population while others don’t – a kind of population arms race fear in my opinion.

Our cultures will survive.

No country needs multiple millions of citizens to keep its culture alive. Look at Ireland. It lost half its population in a few decades and still we know what it is to be Irish. There are fewer Irish per square km of Ireland than there are of Spaniards to square Km of Spain, or any other country practically in Europe – 4 million compared to 16 in the same area of the Netherlands.

And within that relatively small population, let’s be honest, how many people do Irish dancing, play the bodhrán or uilleannpipes, or even speak the language very well? (Hint, I do none of these things.)

In our globalised (mostly Americanised) world, most of us watch Netflix, shop in Zara and dance to techno., not to mention eat pizza and curries.

But that’s okay.

It only takes a handful to keep a culture alive.

Many Native American’s have kept their language and customs going despite being nearly wiped out by European invaders.

The highlanders of Scotland kept their Gaelic, kilts and tartan going, despite the crackdown on them in the 1700s.

The Basques were prohibited from speaking, too, yet now my kids speak only Basque in school, and they learn the culture of many villages and towns in the region – carnival means making a different costume every year in my house!

 

People tend to think that the way the world was when they were young is the way it should be.

That’s why some of us don’t notice that the insects are vanishing, that the seas are empty, that sheep are not supposed to be eating every tree seedling that tries to sprout.

We are used to having billions of people, used to hearing that there are more than a billion people in both China and India.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A billion human beings is quite enough for Planet Earth..

If we want those folks to live in any way approaching the wonderful lives we are (could be if we tried) living in the western world, then we would be better off with even fewer.

A planet emptier of humans would be able to become one full with the other denizens of our ecosystems we have pushed out during our population explosion.

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I’d rather meet some storks while cycling along a country road than a load of cars and trucks. Or other cyclists!

And, for those who only care about seeing the same species, perhaps this lower density will help us appreciate the other humans around us

For our fellow citizens have become mostly background noise to us: moving furniture and to our lives.

We sit on metros and busses surrounded by others without even catching their eye. We go to coffee shops and bars and exchange few words. The supermarket customer now hardly needs to acknowledge the existence of the cashier, if there is one. Our elevator journeys are a gauntlet of greetings, goodbyes and trying not to look at one another in between.

If we were less tightly packed, perhaps we could become more personable (note the word) and talk to one another, chat with our neighbours, smile on the street as we pass, like people did in the past when they lived in villages, like they still do in small communities.

Remember when we all laughed watching Crocodile Dundee deciding New York must be the friendliest place on Earth, with seven million people all wanting to live together?

 

I see only advantages in such reductions. The only problem is how to get there – and it’ll be most probably abruptly by climate devastation and the loss of biodiversity.

Malthus always gets a bad rap, but as Naomi Klein said, Climate Change changes everything.