Category Archives: Ecology
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.
I am not saying she does not deserve a Nobel Prize
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.
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?
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.
But they’re not looking for it.
We already failed them.
We can now only make amends.
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.
What’s the problem?
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.
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.
In my last blog post I said that we need government to get us out of this crisis we are immersed in (it’s 20˚C in Pamplona today, the 26thof February, while the kids in my school are supposedly up in the Pyrenees skiing for the week).
The problem is that governments are only interested in keeping their economies going full steam ahead on the coal of capitalism.
Of course, some of them are so fucking shit that they’re doing the opposite of what their puppet masters would have them do. It’s possible that they might help the planet by fucking up our society… something pondered in this next poem.
What would another species say
About our world?
Watching these tiny actions,
While the worst barely awaits,
Each effort hardly abates.
Indeed, we are bathers
Intent upon our piece of sand,
While the wave rears up behind.
The idiocy of some, the ignorance
Of others, ill intent and greed of
Thirds all add up to cancel out
The efforts of all the rest
To avoid the coming destruction and
Yet, in cold chemical analysis, knowing
The decimation imminent for so many
Might an outsider smile at
Inflicted by despicable people if that
Also impedes the current trajectory:
Disruption of our good government,
The usual business of bustling populations
Slowing down the business as usual
Which we aren’t wont to stop
But must if we are to have
Any business being on the planet
In the usual way we’ve been since
First becoming people.
The course needs altering, if not
Halting. The actors less relevant
Than the actions: Evil instead of
Well-intentioned will still be better
Than acting not at all.
No points for guessing who is the main person I had in mind for this clusterfuck.
Everyone Needs a Little Governing
We all need a little governing, a solemn voice telling us what would be best,
And suggesting guidelines to follow, even if we’ve thought of them ourselves.
I can control my daughter’s diabetes much better than I can my own.
Though I know what must be done, it’s harder to deny my own temptations.
Who hasn’t benefitted from working out with a friend instead of attending a gym alone?
Going to Weight Watchers works much better than trying to diet unassisted. The secret’s
in the name. And it’s the same for being good citizens.
We can tax tobacco use, but only by frowning upon it can we really take it down.
The price of luxuries is only prohibitive if you’re not very rich, and that’s just
discrimination rather than good stewardship.
Thus I wish someone would stop selling me shrimp, which are too delicious to deny
myself, despite the detriment I know eating them does to the environment.
Baby eels need to be illegal instead of merely expensive; the same for Bluefin tuna.
I wouldn’t miss the latter fish much if they were off the menu in my rainbow roll
because of their imminent demise, or of the by-catch obliterating our oceans.
Likewise, I would find a way to get my groceries home from the mongers or
butchers without a plastic bag, were they finally, properly, prohibited.
I’ll express no melancholy if I could never again drive through Madrid,
as long as the millionaires are only allowed if in electric cars like everyone else.
It pains me to say it, for the plans I had can’t happen if this does, but the future
requires aeroplane fares to be rationed, rather than priced out of our range
as we run out of oil: a maximum distance per lifetime –
until they create a carbon-neutral fuel –
we can use on a few flights in Europe or one all-out Phlleas Fogg journey,
a true trip of a lifetime to Australia or Tahiti, and that’s it. Take the train
to Vienna if you must, but your Island is out of reach except by mail boat.
Some laws are more easily lived with than others, but all are abided by
if need be, and believe me, needs be, big-time in these times.
If we don’t make them, we will be making the biggest mistake made
By humanity in its entire history. These are the only ways to manage ourselves,
to get out of our individual and global dilemmas. They are hard decisions,
which require a strong conviction in what is right, taken by someone willing
to stand up for that, and fight, to lead the way if that be into the fray,
against the grain, which is why we vote in leaders when given ballot papers.
I support the calls for revolution, the rejection of our global system.
The strikes called by students to demand the emergency handbrake is pulled.
The rebellion explicit in the extinction rebellion name.
This is not anarchy.
Anarchy might be the best way to have human societies, but to run the planet, without running it into an ecological brick wall. We need government. It’s just that the governments we have at the moment are monumentally shit at doing what they are supposed to do
For those who don’t know, here are a few photos to illustrate the points
It’s the little things.
You know when you’re watching a movie and you say to yourself, “that’s bullshit?” Because you know too much about the particular topic, and the director didn’t do his homework, so you’ve a guy shooting way more bullets than are in the gun etc.
Well, I’ve had a couple of those recently that all came together and makes me want to point them out.
The first is from the book I’m reading – Dan Brown’s Origin
Yea, I know, Dan Brown isn’t writing for accuracy.
But he could at least try.
Let’s leave aside straight away the fact that he’s put lots of detail into all his descriptions of the architecture (before you start reading the novel he states that all the locations and art etc. are real) but invents a parallel universe Spanish royal family. It’s actually quite funny to read how the king of Spain is so devout, when the former king is a notorious philanderer.
It’s the little things that catch a reader. Like when at the start of the novel two Irish football fans harass a Spanish Admiral in a bar. The fans have been watching a soccer match between Ireland and Spain or Portugal (it’s unclear where this takes place) and are drunk (that’s fine) when they enter the bar, empty but for the barmaid and the admiral. Now, not only would two Irish fans not harass a local to drink with them, being happy enough to be with themselves, they’d not be just two of them alone after a match. There’d be hordes of them. And when we read that the name of the bar is fucking Molly Malone, it’ just taking the fucking piss! What a crock of shit.
Just laziness. Perhaps what Brown considers Irish is what he sees in Boston, but he’s never watched footage of Irish fans after an international game on foreign soil, that’s for fucking sure.
I’m obviously not the first person to point this out...
Research. It’s what writers do. Getting people right is more important than how long the LCD screens in the Guggenheim are.
The second examples come from a movie I’m half way through.
Hold the Dark.
As a biologist and woof enthusiast, I stuck it right on when I signed up to Netflix!
I knew there’d be bullshit about wolves. They’re always cast in a bullshit light.
But that wasn’t the problem on the believability end.
I was at first impressed to see the local woman put masking tape on the tip of the gun barrel, to keep out snow and dirt. We do that in the bog, in case you fall and get peat and dirt stuck up there. You can’t shoot a rifle that’s obstructed like that. Well, you can, but do it far away from me.
But then, they go and make a point of the naturalist, played by Jeffry Wright, struggling to get the masking tape off the barrel so he can defend himself against the approaching wolf pack!
No! No and fucking NO!
You don’t take the tape off! You just fucking shoot! The pressure blows a hole in the tape before the bullet could even touch it! Any hunter knows that, or should.
But what most pisses me off about some movies, and it’s perhaps not a problem of doing research, but just society, is how much the actions of some characters differ from what I consider sensible and, given the state of our world right now, basically unacceptably stupid.
Wasting stuff, especially energy.
They’re in Alaska.
Not Anchorage, but way up north.
The biologist inexplicably turns up without decent footwear, like he’s never tracked a wolf in his life. The local gives him some boots more appropriate to the weather. And a good caribou skin.
But yet, she lives in a house that looks way under insulated for the clime. I’ve more cladding on my house in Spain, and that has foot-thick brick walls to boot.
And she goes around in cardigan open to the wind, and stands with the fucking door open looking out at the snow.
I know she’s a bit crazy, but such habits are ingrained. She’s not rich – her husband is off in the war and she says she can’t pay the naturalist.
So why is she wasting the heat?
I dunno if it’s just because I was always told to turn off the immersion heater and turn off the lights to save money, but I’m sure poor people the world over are pretty frugal when it comes to this kind of thing.
Also, the naturalist sleeps on the couch with just his long johns and a flimsy blanket. The fire is roaring, of course. But he’s a naturalist! Where’s the sleeping bag and less of the wasting firewood?
Climate change, Jeffry! Your character would be very aware of that, even if your host is not big on energy efficiency.
As I said, perhaps it’s just the state of society.
But, as I also said it’s not acceptable.
And we should stop showing such irresponsibility.
As Hollywood knows, art imitates life and life imitates art.
It’s time to start modelling good behaviour.
Just like few characters smoke in movies now compared to the chain-smoking of the fifties and sixties, movie makers can stop having characters do stupid shit that worsens climate breakdown and pollutes our planet. Hopefully it will happen a bit quicker than the change from smoking to not – this is more urgent.
Then maybe readers and viewers won’t get be so let down by the stories we’re told.
On the other hand, if real people keep acting like these characters, then our children won’t have much time, money, or inclination, to “Netflix and chill.”
News at Nine, now. And our first story of course is
What everyone’s talking about today. The weather.
Yes, winter has hit, and hard. Lots of traffic
Snarl-ups this morning, with tailbacks of two hours,
Cars sliding on the icy surface after the first snowfall
Of the season. Hundreds of hub workers literarily
Frozen in gridlock on their way in from the suburbs:
Even those who left well before dawn to get a jump
On the rest forced to a slow crawl behind snowploughs
And salt spreaders – an army of which were out
All night, trying to keep the cars moving, and will be
In force for the rest of the cold snap.
Yet, it didn’t get
Any better during this evening’s commute, people
Still on the road as we speak. We’ll be taking you
Live, later to our on-site reports from a host of
Highways and byways, where there’s not much
Headway being made at all.
And what a shock
To the system; suddenly, the hot weather
We were all becoming so accustomed to, has gone
For now. The beer gardens and restaurant
Terraces, that were teeming last weekend, now
Deserted but for a few forlorn sparrows seeking
Crumbs under the drifts of their new white home.
While we’re faced with a whole lot of inconvenience
For the foreseeable future. Especially those travelling
Long distances, another thing we’ve become used to.
Wheel chains compulsory on certain routes; time to
Change to all-weather tyres and fill up on anti-freeze.
Perhaps only the kids are happy, with a delayed
Arrival at school and perhaps a free day tomorrow,
As it’s set to freeze hard again, especially in the hills
While the rest of us just shrug and get on with it,
Hoping there won’t be a power cut and we can get
The drive shovelled before our extra-hour-long drive.
Nevertheless, it’s worth reminding ourselves
That we used to be used to this, this used to be usual,
And for once we can go skiing or sledding, so get that sleigh
Out of the shed, and if you have kids make a snowman –
Making sure to film them, for they mightn’t remember
All this in twenty years, and think it a fairy tale.
Take them to the woods at least, for the first time
This year, perhaps, without worrying about tick bites
Lyme Disease and the other nasty bugs they transmit.
The flies, too, are dropping like they’re famed to, but
Have been plaguing us on our patios till now, and
The mosquitos are also finally dying so Deet isn’t needed
To keep West Nile virus and Yellow Fever at bay, till spring.
Next spring there might be fewer lines of those
Poisonous processionary caterpillars for your dog to
Get mixed up with, if this hard frost penetrates their nests,
Giving foresters a break in their pine plantations, too.
The farmers will also be happy, since the grasshoppers
Aren’t nibbling at their sown winter cereals now, and
Perhaps a crop will come up green before next year’s
Eggs are hatched and ravenous at the sprouting stalks.
As for traffic, well, better have your car buried
By snow, which at least you can dig out of, than have
It carried off down the street by a flash flood, like
We saw during last month’s devastating torrential rains.
So, before we go to our roving reporters, a quick
Recap of international news, including new warming
Recorded in the Greenland icecap, and a typhoon
Threatening the already soaked and suffering Bengalis.
I sit upon a hotel terrace,
Gazing out at grebes
Diving between white and yellow
Water lilies, trying to grasp our universe.
This Dark Matter they say
Gives gravity to our galaxy
Must mingle with us here on Earth,
Else why do I feel such linking
With other species, the lake life teeming?
I am entwined with these trees
More than merely exchanging molecules.
Reincarnation is reality. A part of me
Exists outside myself, with which I can commune;
Fragments of my former lives abound in this pond,
Fine portions of prior bodies populate the forest.
There’s a strand of me in that serene swan
Stately sliding, signets drawn behind like magnets.
These geese gliding in on the twilight and I
Share atoms. The stones under our feet,
Still throb with the vitality of ancient seas;
Our electrons once spun in the same shells
And yet retain the memory of those orbits.
Since the energy of starbursts vibrates on in ourselves,
These connections are impossible to erase,
We are one: our earth, the stars and empty reaches,
Really only fractals of an elementary existence.
I wrote that a couple of months ago while staying in this hotel, having breakfast on this terrace. Just to show there are positive poems going round my head too!
It was in the Netherlands, and the lake was man-made, created when dredging to make higher land elsewhere in town. The motorway went past behind those trees, but it was still wonderfully quiet and peaceful, and the waterfowl didn’t care how their home was made. It shows that nature can come back strong when given a chance, even in the midst of our habitations.
Here’s another in the same vein, one of a few I was inspired to write that week…
As you can see from the photo at the bottom, it’s hard not to be inspired in that light.
Twinned with an Egret
They say every electron has a twin;
In space and time, while even atoms
Exist in two separate places at once.
Well, that would explain this affinity
For egrets and owls and willow trees.
Motes might not have the energy to
Escape gravity, but bits of bodies split:
My twins vibrate in other entities.
At the End of the Days
Ultimately, if our civilization
Can’t continue without further
Ecological destruction and
Genocide of tribal peoples,
It’s not very fucking advanced.
I wrote this the other day after Reading Gary Snyder’s The Old Ways.
Then I heard that August 9th is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
The main point about allowing people to live the way they always have is to understand that they are not “Stone Age,” nor primitive, and that if they have not already become part of our globalised civilisation it is because they do not want to, not because they’re too ignorant to know better. They do know better. They have heard of the ways of the world outside and they have rejected it. Sometimes because of a very real fear for their lives.
Second thing is to understand that the land they live on, if it belongs to anyone, belongs to them. We need to stay the hell out of there – and that mostly includes loggers, miners, ranchers, palm oil producers… all those nice people…
Here’s another video. As it asks, how long could you last alone in the forest?
On the other hand, how long do you think it would take one of the Yanomami kids, currently being affected by a measles epidemic, to figure out how to play FIFA on your playstation?
Five minutes, is the answer to both….
As Snyder said back in the 70s, to be able to survive off what the land under your feet provides is a sign of extreme advancement. Our society can’t do that. it needs so much more…
here’s another poem.
Balance comes in all we observe;
It is a fundament of our Universe:
Strong forces and electromagnetism
Keep atoms unified or flimsy, gravity
Balanced with a satellite’s speed keep it
Spinning instead of spiralling away.
So too on our planet, as the mountains
Rise, so the earth underneath goes ever
Deeper. In our humanity we see the same
Climbing by pushing down others: leisure
Comes only by enslaving or exploiting,
Creating peasants and proletariats;
Cites spread by denuding vast areas outside;
And imperialism depends upon
I donate 10% of my royalties on the Silver Nights Trilogy to Survival International.
The planet needs them, and they need us.