Category Archives: Equality
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Feel proud to walk out of a store without a shopping bag.
It’s a feeling you’ll grow to love.
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
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.
George Monbiot has an interesting, if depressing, article out this week about the British Govt. doing more or less nothing to solve the environmental crises we are facing.
We all know the shit is approaching the fan, and it will surely hit it at speed and force should we so blithely as we currently are, continue to do our business as usual on the planet.
I have used in Easter Island as an example in my biology classes for more than a decade now. I had my students read use the essay Twilight at Easter by Jared Diamond in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2005 before he I read his book Collapse.
It’s an instructive, if depressing, lesson on how people can undermine their own future by going with the business as usual way of doing things, even when that means short-term gains lead to long-term destruction.
People often wonder what the person who cut the last tree on Easter Island thought as he did so.
And the answer of course, is that he didn’t cut down a big tree, he only cut a small tree that he needed to cut to cook his meal, and it looked just like all the other bushes around, so he didn’t think very much of it at all – the big trees had been gone for a while.
We always assumed those poor sods were ignorant, that they didn’t have the benefit of hindsight like we do. If we, with their example, do the same stupid thing, then we would be so many times dumber than they were.
However, perhaps the Eastern Islanders weren’t all that stupid. I mean, perhaps all of them were not that stupid. The ones who weren’t so blind were nearly stymied by the majority of stupid.
I’m sure some saw it coming.
It’s clear that they didn’t do very much to stop it.
More importantly than asking what the guy who cut the last tree, we should ask what went through the mind of the guy on Easter Island who was shouting out to stop the cutting of all the trees. The guy(s and gals) who were predicting the future, pointing out the disappearance of the birds they used to eat, lamenting the old state of the canoes that could not be replaced and meant dolphin and deep-sea fish were off the menu, etc.
You can almost imagine a Monty Python-esque scene where the proto-ecologist says to the crowd that the big statures aren’t going to help get more food or help make canoes to catch tuna, and one of the stone masons shouts back say to him, “Shut up, you, or I’ll bloody throttle you – I’ve a good job here making them statues.”
If it were indeed case that some knew the collapse of their society and lives was imminent, well, it would make Easter Island an even more instructive, and depressing, lesson for us today as we face the guardians of the status quo.
Even more so than the statues of Easter Island, the status quo is a hard stone to roll off us.