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Shifting Baselines

            Shifting Baselines

I read a story, set in a strange place

But setting off from London in the

Last century, and the strangest fact 

Was the act of dating time: not using

Newspapers, which was his job, but

From the nightingale’s mating song.

Nightingale
Nightingale – a bird once heard in London

How stark the shift from this to

Today’s sad state of scenes: the lark

Sings aloft, a lone clarion upon the

Empty sheep-shorn heath, and yet 

Nobody knows him, nor hardly hears.

From counting skylarks to European Hamsters - LIFE+ Alister - Grand Hamster  Alsace
skylark. still common where there’s only grass…

Our knowledge of the shifting seasons,

The timeless turning of life around

Us, fell away in the meantime: lost

To ever-speedier spinning, electrons

Taking attention from the tunes and

Stories sewn in sinews, to those 

Traced ephemerally on screens, stacked

Up operas in boxes, serial sameness,

Lines listed, twisted until too seems

Our lives, left less sane, tracks too tame

To take notice of what, without, from us 

The gamers have already taken.

Things you learn from reading books

It’s amazing what you can learn from books.

Sounds silly, that sentence…

I love when I’m deep in a book and something stops me halfway through a paragraph and makes me say “Holy shit!” out loud – I never knew that! Or, “Wow. Who knew?”

And sometimes it’ll send me off to investigate further.

There are some writers, editors etc., and I suppose readers, who don’t like this. They don’t anything that makes you interrupt the story, that keeps your nose in the leaves.

But for me, a really rich book is one that makes you pause every now and then and think about what you’re reading, ponder the meaning of what you’ve read, assimilate the knowledge this piece of writing has given you over and above an entertaining read.

This is why people read fiction. This is why science indicates that people who read fiction are more empathetic.

Here are three examples:

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I started reading Homo Deus, a recent non-fiction book, the sequel to Sapiens, which you might have heard of.

But before I go deep into it, I wanted to read a similarly titled novel – Men Like Gods, by HG Wells.

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An interesting book. We are clearly still in Wells’ Age of Confusion, with our population soaring way, way past what Wells worried was too many (2000m), and our world yet being pillaged by the rich.

But what really amazed me, in a book about a crossing dimensions into new universes (where the telecommunications department knows where every human is at all times but the knowledge can only be used for the good of the individual!) was the fact that the main character commented on the fact that there were thrushes singing in July – that he knew these birds stopped singing by June.

This is a character who writes for a liberal paper in the centre of London.

I’m a zoologist – sorry, I have a doctorate in zoology (there are picky fuckers out there in twitterlandia who like to point out that there’s a difference if I no longer gain employment from zoology except by teaching biology, who I hope die when they’re on a plane and a retired doctor tells them he’s no longer qualified to give them first aid while they suffer cardiac arrest, but I digress) – though not an ornithologist, but I had no idea.

He also commented on the fact that nightingales could be found in Pangbourne and Caversham, both in Reading just outside London were great places for nightingales (I wonder if there are any there now) which was amazing knowledge for an average Joe, too.

Why don’t we all know such things now? Where is our general knowledge of the life of other species around us gone? I was only familiar with the Blackbird and Robin – aside from the magpies and seagulls – back home in my hedgerow.

 

How much we have lost, even from such busy, hedonistic, polluted and poverty-stricken times as 1920’s London.

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Another book I recently read, and commented on in my facebook feed, is Point Counter Point, by the contemporaneous Aldous Huxley, who only predicted the future in this particular novel by talking about the fact that the world would run out of phosphorous, and other important raw materials and minerals due to unhinged addiction to progress, while politicians fucked around with petty, inconsequential nonsense that they hoped with get them elected over someone equally competent – or in competent, as the case usually is – while the problems that really affect us only snowball.

 

The third novel was Meridian, the second novel by Alice Walker, the author of The Colour Purple.

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At the end of the book, Walker describes the main character in the following paragraph:

“On those occasions such was her rage that that she actually felt as if the rich and racist of the world should stand in fear of her, because she – though apparently weak and penniless, a little crazy and without power – was as yet of a resolute and relatively fearless character, which, sufficient in its calm acceptance of its own purpose, could bring the mightiest country to its knees.

And I couldn’t help but think of Greta Thunberg – a beam of light in our own dark times, who seemingly powerless, is nonetheless, so resolute in her purpose that she has an immense effect upon countries.”

It is so often the person who seems weakest who can stand the strongest.

I only hope that in contrast to how people treated people like Meridian in the era of civil rights, that we will appreciate Greta for the positive influence she is on global justice and the survival of our society, and protect her from the evils we know some amongst us would wish her.

 

 

 

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.

A poem about Government…

 

 

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.

 

19/2/19

 

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

Eel Farming

baby eels which should be swimming up the rivers to grow into adults

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baby eels on toast – a typical tapa, for those with the dough..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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mangroves cleared away to provide a farm for shrimp

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Tasty but terrible for the tropical ecosystems, and for everywhere else they live if they’re harvested.

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Tasty Tuna. But not cheap to eat, economically or ecologically.

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why is this fish worth millions? Cos there ain’t millions left in the oceans any more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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why do we see so many luxury cars in central London? Because the normal folk can’t afford to drive there any more.