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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 blogpost in place of a poem

I lost a friend the other day, died of cancer, the way many do, after a decade or more living with the disease in varied bouts of beating and being beaten.

I often write a poem when someone important dies. This time no words came out of the void in a shape that made me think it should be a poem.

Perhaps it was because I found out the news over the internet – one of the few positive points about some social media sites that at least some use it for good, if sad actions. Many of his friends found out the same way. At the time I was in work, teaching in a school where nobody knows nor knew Tamir Teichman. As I found out when my grandmother died while I was in Boston, school kids don’t need to know about what’s going on behind the smile when you greet them in the classroom. The show goes on. So I’d little time to digest the news and let my memories return the way it would be needed to write a poem.

Instead, it’s a blog post.

Tamir bikeride.jpgI worked with Tamir for several years when I lived in Boston. We were two of three people in the CHS science dept., along with Anna Power, who’d been Tamir’s student teacher. They taught chemistry and physics, while I taught biology. We had three classes in a row, mine in the middle, joined by interior doors. We went in and out of one another’s class all the time, often leaving the doors open if one of us needed to use the bathroom. He made reagents for my experiments when I ran out, and was a great colleague. He was also a great teacher, who taught me a lot, and I hope in my own career some of what I learned from him has stuck and been transmitted to my own classroom.  He never varied in his frank and honest approach to his classes and the students. He was the same person in the classroom and out. His methods sometimes clashed with the administration’s views of how classrooms should be run, especially those of a new headmaster who after a couple of years fired Tamir – the laws in America are not usually much help to employees. The union had been ousted before I started in CHS and we had a right to work agreement in place of a contract.  Tamir saw the writing on the wall, but never changed the way he went about things. As far as the students are concerned, his way was clearly the right way to do things, as his friends could see on social media when a huge number of people declared he was the best teacher they’d ever had.

He was one of the best colleagues I ever had, I can tell you. And one of the best friends. We spent a lot of time together during the seven years I lived there, from going out for drinks on Fridays with the other teachers, to cycling along the Charles River on Saturdays, to a road trip we took in a U-Haul truck, taking some of his mother’s antique furniture from storage down in Boca Raton up to Brookline – a trip from Miami to Maine, all told. Living in rental accommodation, I was delighted to help him out in his garden, doing a little bit of landscaping in his house and the summer camp his family have on the shores of one of the lakes of Maine, where he’d invited me and my wife and we’d take in the wildlife and the silence. I’ve experienced fewer more peaceful places in the world – even in Wicklow the wind is always in your ears!

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Tamir on the open road

 

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At Kitty Hawk

 

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Tamir and my wife out on the lake

A dedicated environmentalist, he saved everything, from school materials to bike parts. One of his, and my, great disappointments was to see the old vintage benches of the labs torn up and thrown out rather than taken by an antiques dealer – it would have made an amazing pub bar. Before he left CHS, we donated lots of old chemicals and materials to one of my former student teachers who’d started in a charter school that needed stuff (in America, many schools rely on charity to do the best they can for their kids). He taught me how to cool a house at night and keep the heat out during the day, and for drinking glasses he used really lovely old jam jars to serve freshly squeezed orange juice in the humid summer.

He died after a long illness, which though debilitating at times never stopped him from his work as athletic coach, nor slowed him down on a bike ride – he outpaced me easily. He’d left another school since then, and was working in a less stressful job when I last talked to him.

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Our last bike ride along the Charles.

His mother had moved in with him, but she’d died just recently, coincidentally, or perhaps not. He was single, with two siblings living overseas and their children, two aged aunts and some cousins.

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Tamir in his mother’s car before we took a drive around Miami

 

Yet he leaves many, many mourning his passing. He leaves a multitude of memories among his friends and colleagues, and he has made a significant mark on the lives of his students. They will keep him alive. His actions have their ripples though the times to come, having helped form adults who will work to make this world, their world, a better place than the way it was when they were thrown it.

Whatever your view on the afterlife –I’ve no idea of Tamir’s, since we never talked much about religion, other than about his family’s history of having survived the Holocaust – one thing I’ve learned from this sad episode is that your actions during life will reflect on what happens when you die. Perhaps you’ll have a lot of kids to attend your funeral, have family to pray for your passage through purgatory and onto the pearly gates. Maybe you won’t. Yet even if you don’t, never think that your life hasn’t touched someone, that someone won’t mourn your absence, won’t think wistfully of the time you smiled at them, offered help, extended a hand, said a kindly word, gave your honest opinion and made them ponder, wonder, reconsider, feel some emotion.

As I said on social media, mostly directed at my (our) former students who knew Tamir, nobody dies who lives on in memories. Tamir will never be lost from the thoughts of those who knew him. His positive energy will reverberate though our worlds.

Sometimes when a person dies, we say, well, thank god they’re gone. Think of Margaret Thatcher…. I’ve experienced a few of those thoughts. There are some people who are just arseholes. Even children and grandkids can be glad to get shut of their elderly parents and grandparents, truth be told.

Other times, after the sadness comes a smile, a contentedness, a (cold) comfort, that at least you had the privilege to meet that man, to know that woman.

That’s what I feel now, a few days later. I know my life has been enriched for knowing Tamir and hanging out with him.

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chilling out in Saint Augustine, Fl. Rest well, T.

I only hope a little of his teaching style rubbed off on me, and that when I die, some at least will say something similar of me.

 

The Anomaly

 

We are indeed an anomaly.

That is what they will say about us. By us I mean those alive right now in the early twenty-first century.

 

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When we talk about the environmental havoc humans have played with the planet, we have a tendency to say “it was the time” – in the Fifties they didn’t know any better, like they didn’t know that corporal punishment or locking up unmarried mother was barbaric or smoking, or lead, or asbestos was bad for your health, or that it was worth preserving national monuments for posterity.

They let the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger die in the 1930s because they weren’t aware there were no more left in the wild, and captive breeding programs were unheard of.

The Alhambra in Andalucia, now a huge tourist attraction, was let go to rack and ruin until the eighties. The walls of Pamplona were torn down in grand part in the early part of the twentieth century to extend the city, and now what remains is the town’s main attraction outside of San Fermines. An application as a Unesco site was denied in the eighties because the walls weren’t complete.

 

But they didn’t know any better then. Not like we do now.

Now we’d never destroy a piece of patrimony, an example of our heritage. Except Isis, the mad bastards.

But we still do.

The wooden road discovered in Ireland which is a millennium older than any Roman roads and which is right now being shredded for sale as peat moss is just an example. The people in control just don’t give a fuck, simple as that. Same now as it ever was.

 

We hear about the dangers of cigarette smoking and asbestos and lead all the time. The companies peddling or using them knew a hell of a lot longer than the general public, though. However, they’d never endanger public health with those things now.

 

Oh yes they would, and oh yes they do.

 

They still use asbestos in developing countries to build houses. They still sell cigarettes to people and pressurise, or sue, governments to allow them do so in the way they want. A look at the headlines tells us all we need to know about what they think about saving money to keep kids away from being poisoned by lead in their environment.

 

Despite the horror show awaiting us at the hands of global warming, companies like VW and Exxon keep on trucking the same way they want to and fuck us and our flimsy attempts to use the law to keep us safe.

 

It seems we humans are intent on keeping on destroying things until they’re gone. Then we will try to rebuild the treasure we have ruined, like they rebuilt the Liceu opera house in Barcelona when it burnt down. Hey, there’s money in construction… like there’s money in war. Better build up Miami Beach than slow down the submerging…

Easier to rebuild the walls of Pamplona, or of Rome, than the kind of treasures we are letting die out around us. A Tasmanian tiger is a loss, but so much more is the Sumatran, the Siberian, the Bengal.

 

They call it business as usual. But it’s not. It’s only been like that for a very short time. And it will only last a little bit more, no matter what we do in the next few years and decades. It’s only a blip on human history, never mind geological time.

Afterward, when we all – what’s left of us – will live a very different kind of life; one more in tune with the planet, more in line with its resources.

 

The great pity – though only one of the pities – is that if we went now towards the way we must all live, it would be so much easier, so much better for us and the world around us.

Like getting by without asbestos is better than having to remove it, and preventing illness is better than paying the healthcare costs of those affected, or letting them die, as many are.

This radio show about life expectancy says that of American Whites is declining, and that of Hispanics much higher than expected simply because of the difference in smoking rates between these two groups. John Oliver’s very informative and funny show about lead says that every dollar spent in lead abatement brings back seventeen in savings of special education, healthcare and crime effects of lead poisoning.

Think of how much better things would have been if those bastards running those lobbies didn’t do their jobs so well and we had stopped using them way back when they figured out they were dangerous.

 

I know it sounds pessimistic, but I really think we’ll be living very different lives sooner than we think. We won’t be driving the cars we are now for one. We will all go to solar electricity and drive cars that don’t contaminate. It’s the only way forward, because of what economists pretend we don’t know – that finite resources thingy.

 

Most of these vehicles will go a little slower than your average Audi. And that’s okay. I mean, why do we need to have cars now that can go so fast? It’s not as if they can do that on city streets more accelerate to the next red light. Why do we need cars that can go double the speed limit so smoothly that we hardly notice we’re endangering ourselves and others and are surprised when we get the speeding ticket? We’ve seen that they can’t do this without producing a shit load of pollution, and so called efficiency in engines has been mere illegal IT trickery and pollution control fraud (for which I can’t see anyone in jail yet).

 

So why not start now? Why not stop making cars which are so fast? Especially since it seems basically impossible to make them both fast and as efficient as they are legally supposed to.

 

What’s the point in one generation having the experience of super gas guzzling cars – which never see their full potential on our roads –  when every other generation in the future will have to get by with a the equivalent of a Prius?

 

If we don’t stop this short aberration of extreme greed – for we’re all greedy, but usually our peers slap us around the head and tell us to get a grip on ourselves when we go too far. This has not unfortunately happened to CEOs and hedge fund managers yet (who sometimes get billions of dollars a year – I mean, like, what the actual fuck? They could pay for lead abatement out of their back pockets, they could fucking buy Sumatra to make a tiger reserve…) Unless we slap the hands of those holding the reins, we’re liable to ruin the little wonder we have left around us in this anomaly of idiocy.

 

People post quaint photos on social media and ask if you could stay in a cabin in the woods and live a simple life. Many say no. Not me. I’d love it. But even I would say no if there was no woods around the cabin. That’s the simplified future we could be facing, though.