Learning from Dogs

Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

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Could be the start of a welcome trend!

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Certainly dogs couldn’t be any worse!

I am referring to politicians; but you probably guessed that.

Just my way of a lead-in to a wonderful item seen recently over on ABC Eye Witness News.

Namely:

DOG ELECTED MAYOR IN CORMORANT, MINNESOTA

Duke, the mayor of Cormorant, Minnesota.

Duke, the mayor of Cormorant, Minnesota.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

CORMORANT, Minnesota (WLS) — Duke, a 7-year-old dog, was elected mayor of Cormorant, Minnesota.

He won by a landslide,” Tricia Maloney said of the Great Pyrenees. “He’s used to coming to the pub and getting some burgers and some fries or something.”

The 12 people who live in Cormorant all paid $1 to vote.

Poor Richard Sherbrook that owns the Cormorant store, he didn’t even have half as many votes as Duke did,” Maloney said.

The farm dog is all bark, no bite. His term lasts one year.

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A quick web search found a longer version of the news item over on the CBS News website:

Duke The Dog Sworn In As Mayor Of Cormorant, Minn.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Every dog has his day and Saturday is it for Duke the dog.

Duke was elected mayor of the northwestern Minnesota community of Cormorant, and he was sworn in Saturday. Organizer Tammy Odegaard says Duke got gussied up Friday night, his second trip to the groomer since his election.

He spends a lot of time at the dairy farm next door,” Odegaard said, who notes she’s now a member of Duke’s staff. “So, twice in, like, seven days for him is, like, it’s never happened. So I’m sure he’s wondering what’s going on with just that.”

His first grooming took five hours and came after the majority of the town’s 12 voters backed him in the balloting. The town pulled out all the stops for the 10 a.m. ceremony during Cormorant’s annual fair.

We’ll have him put his little paw on the bible, going to have him have the little oath,” Odegaard said. “Of course, he’s not going to repeat it. It would be awesome if he would bark, but who knows? He’s a country dog, so he’s not used to performing on cue.

During the two-minute inauguration ceremony, Steve Sorenson, chairman of Cormorant Township, greeted Duke and set forth his duties.

You are about to em-bark upon a great time of service, tremendous personal and professional growth,” Sorenson said. “If you accept this challenge and these responsibilities, please bark or pant.

Duke panted.

I think that qualifies,” Sorenson said.

As for the mayor’s salary, a pet food store is donating a year’s supply of kibble to reward him for his service.

The village of Cormorant is located in northwestern Minnesota, near Pelican Rapids.

Duke is a seven-year-old, big, white, shaggy Great Pyrenees that loves to roll around in the dirt. Odegaard would not say if that activity qualifies Duke for a career in politics.

You said it, not me,” Odegaard laughed.

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That inauguration ceremony was captured on video; see below.  Warning, the first seven minutes are a little slow! But it is worth watching, trust me!

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Written by Paul Handover

August 18, 2014 at 00:00

The power of hope.

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Funny how things happen.

Yesterday evening we had close friend Don Reeve staying with us.  To put this into context, it was Don and his wife, Suzann, who in 2007 invited me to spend Christmas with them at their Winter home down in San Carlos, Mexico. That, in turn, led me to meeting Jean, Suzann’s best friend, and look where that got me! :-)

(Can’t resist adding that Jean and I were born in London, some 23 miles from each other!)

Fr. Dan Tantimonaco with the newly weds!

Fr. Dan Tantimonaco with the newly weds! Payson, AZ. November 20th., 2010.

Thus you can understand the pleasure it was for Jean and me again to see Don; albeit for a brief overnight stay.

What was an extra, unanticipated pleasure was meeting a young, rescue dog that Don had adopted in recent weeks.  Her name is Margarita and she was found and rescued by Suzann from the streets in San Carlos.  What was so glorious was to see the love and hope for a better future that flowed between Don and the sweet, young Margarita.  It resonated so perfectly well with Suzan’s post published here on Monday: Rescued dogs are life-savers.

By the time I sat down at my desk yesterday, I was conscious of a) not having a clue as to what to write, and b) inspired by the sense of hope that dogs offer us humans.  Serendipitously, the theme of hope led me to a post written by Jennifer Broudy de Hernandez over on her Transition Times blog.  It was called Warriors for the Planet and was the most beautiful essay.

I’m delighted to reblog that here with Jennifer’s approval.

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Warriors for the Planet

Another summer, another war. I wonder how many summers there have been in the last 5,000 years when human beings were not occupied with killing each other?

Correction: not “human beings,” “men.”

Let’s be frank: even though there may be women in the armed forces of many countries now, war still remains a masculine activity and preoccupation. The women who serve as soldiers must adhere to the masculine warrior code and become honorary “bros,” for whom the worst insult is still be called a “girl” or a “pussy.”

annebaring_a_lgI have been reading Anne Baring’s magisterial book The Dream of the Cosmos, in which she gives a detailed account of the shift, around the time of Gilgamesh, from the ancient, goddess- and nature-worshipping “lunar cultures” to the contemporary era of solar, monotheistic, warrior-worshipping cultures.

In her elaboration of this shift, I read the tragedy of our time, enacted over and over again all over the planet, and not just by humans against humans, but also by humans against the other living beings with whom we share our world. I quote at length from Baring’s remarkable book:

gilgamesh-187x300“The archetype of the solar hero as warrior still exerts immense unconscious influence on the modern male psyche, in the battlefield of politics as well as that of corporate business and even the world of science and academia: the primary aim of the male is to achieve, to win and, if necessary, to defeat other males. The ideal of the warrior has become an unconscious part of every man’s identity from the time he is a small child.

“With the mythic theme of the cosmic battle between good and evil and the indoctrination of the warrior went the focus on war and territorial conquest. War has been endemic throughout the 4000 years of the solar era. The glorification of war and conquest and the exaltation of the warrior is a major theme of the solar era—still with us today in George W. Bush’s words in 2005: ‘We will accept no outcome except victory.’ This call to victory echoes down the centuries, ensuring that hecatombs of young warriors were sacrificed to the god of war, countless millions led into captivity and slavery, countless women raped and widows left destitute. It has sanctioned an ethos that strives for victory at no matter what cost in human lives and even today glorifies war and admires the warrior leader. This archaic model of tribal dominance and conquest has inflicted untold suffering on humanity and now threatens our very survival as a species.

2014-06-15-mission
“The cosmic battle between light and darkness was increasingly projected into the world and a fascination with territorial conquest gripped the imagination and led to the creation of vast empires. It is as if the heroic human ego, identified with the solar hero, had to seek out new territories to conquer, had to embody the myth in a literal sense and as it did so, channel the primitive territorial drives of the psyche into a Dionysian orgy of unbridled conquest, slaughter and destruction. We hear very little about the suffering generated by these conquests: the weeping widows, the mothers who lost sons, the orphaned children and the crops and patterns of sowing and harvesting devastated and disrupted by the foraging armies passing over them, the exquisite works of art pillaged and looted….The long chronicle of conquest and human sacrifice, of exultation in power and the subjugation of enemies might truly be named the dark shadow of the solar age” (118;124).

Like Baring, I see our time as a critical era in the long history of homo sapiens on the planet. There is still hope that enough of us will be able to detach ourselves from the pressures and busyness of our lives—will become conscious of what is happening to the planet and human civilization writ large—will understand that there are other ways to relate to each other and to the Earth, ways that will seem increasingly possible and obvious once we focus on them and begin to put our energies into manifesting our visions of a creative, collaborative, respectful mode of being.

Baring ends her disturbing chapter on the ascendancy of the solar warrior culture with a hopeful quote from The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas, from which she springs into her own positive vision of the potential of our time.

“’We stand at the threshold of a revelation of the nature of reality that could shatter our most established beliefs about ourselves and the world. The very constriction we are experiencing is part of the dynamic of our imminent release. For the deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its being. The driving impulse of the West’s masculine consciousness has been its quest not only to realize itself, to forge its own autonomy, but also, finally, to recover its connection with the whole, to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life; to differentiate itself from but then rediscover and reunite with the feminine, with the mystery of life, of nature, of soul. And that reunion can now occur on a new and profoundly different level from that of the primordial unconscious unity, for the long evolution of human consciousness has prepared it to be capable at last of embracing the ground and matrix of its own being freely and consciously.’

“As this deep soul-impulse gathers momentum, the ‘marriage’ of the re-emerging lunar consciousness with the dominant solar one is beginning to change our perception of reality. This gives us hope for the future. If we can recover the values intrinsic to the ancient participatory way of knowing without losing the priceless evolutionary attainment of a strong and focused ego, together with all the discoveries we have made and the skills we have developed, we could heal both the fissure in our soul and our raped and vandalized planet” (130-131).

My heart aches for the suffering of the innocent civilians trapped in the crossfire in Gaza this summer, and for the grieving families of the passenger plane heinously shot down by warriors who were either poorly trained or just plain evil.

I am heartsick when I think about the holocaust that is overtaking living beings on every quadrant of our planet as humans continue to ravage the forests and seas, to melt the poles with our greenhouse gases, and to poison the aquifers and soil with our chemicals.

The last Polar Bear

This is where the solar cultures, with their “great” warrior kings, have led us. And yet, as Baring says, they have also presided over the most amazing advances in science and technology that humans have ever known in our long history on the planet.

We don’t need or want to go back to the simple innocence of ancient lunar societies. We don’t have to bomb ourselves back into the Stone Age.

What we need is to go forward, wisely and joyously, into a new phase of consciousness, in which the masculine warrior spirit is used for protection and stewardship rather than destruction, and the Earth is honored as the Mother of all that she is.

Never let anyone tell you it can’t be done. It is already happening.

ooOOoo

May I tempt you to go back and re-read that penultimate paragraph.  A sentence that I cannot resist emphasising:

What we need is to go forward, wisely and joyously, into a new phase of consciousness, in which the masculine warrior spirit is used for protection and stewardship rather than destruction, and the Earth is honored as the Mother of all that she is.

 The power of hope!

The message is starting to be heard!

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Fear for the future is driving change.

Apologies again for today’s post being largely the republication of other essays but looking after our guests is, as it should be, taking first priority.

Just as yesterday’s post, the essay by Alex Jones, offered hope, so do today’s items.

The first one was something I read on the Cliff Mass weather blogsite.  It was a forecast as to which of the lower US 48 States would remain habitable.  It opens:

Will the Pacific Northwest be a Climate Refuge Under Global Warming?

As global warming takes hold later in the century, where will be the best place in the lower 48 states to escape its worst effects?

A compelling case can be made that the Pacific Northwest will be one of the best places to live as the earth warms. A potential climate refuge.

and offers this conclusion:

So what conclusion does one inevitably reach by studying the IPCC reports, the U.S. Climate Assessment, and the climate literature?

  • The Northwest is the place to be during global warming.
  • Temperatures will rise more slowly than most of the nation due to the Pacific Ocean (see below)
  • We will have plenty of precipitation, although the amount falling as snow will decline (will fall as rain instead). But we can deal with that by building more reservoir and dam capacity (and some folks on the eastern slopes of the Cascades have proposed to do exactly that).
  • The Pacific Ocean will keep heat waves in check and we don’t get hurricanes.
  • Sea level rise is less of a problem for us due to our substantial terrain and the general elevation rise of our shorelines. Furthermore, some of our land is actually RISING relatively to the sea level because we are still recovering from the last ice age (the heavy ice sheets pushed the land down and now it is still rebounding).
  • There is no indication that our major storms…cyclone-based winds (like the Columbus Day Storm)… will increase under global warming.
  • Increased precipitation may produce more flooding, but that will be limited to river valleys and can be planned for with better river management and zoning.

The second item was this:

Antarctica’s Point of No Return

POTSDAM – Recent satellite observations have confirmed the accuracy of two independent computer simulations that show that the West Antarctic ice sheet has now entered a state of unstoppable collapse. The planet has entered a new era of irreversible consequences from climate change. The only question now is whether we will do enough to prevent similar developments elsewhere.

What the latest findings demonstrate is that crucial parts of the world’s climate system, though massive in size, are so fragile that they can be irremediably disrupted by human activity. It is inevitable that the warmer the world gets, the greater the risk that other parts of the Antarctic will reach a similar tipping point; in fact, we now know that the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica, as big or even bigger than the ice sheet in the West, could be similarly vulnerable.

There are not many human activities whose impact can reasonably be predicted decades, centuries, or even millennia in advance. The fallout from nuclear waste is one; humans’ contribution to global warming through greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, and its impact on rising sea levels, is another.

Indeed, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated, in uncharacteristically strong terms, that the sea level is “virtually certain” to continue to rise in the coming centuries or millennia. Moreover, the greater our emissions, the higher the seas will rise.

The West Antarctic ice sheet; for the time being!

The West Antarctic ice sheet; for the time being!

The full article may be read here.

So why do I say that these articles offer hope?

Simply, because the quicker that the awareness of the critical challenges ahead becomes widespread knowledge, right around the world, the quicker that there will be political movements to change our relationship with our planet.

It’s never about not needing governments, it’s always about needing the right sort of governments.

New communities.

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A highly pertinent post from Alex Jones.

I have written previously on Learning from Dogs about the future having to be local if we are to stand any chance of coping with what is ahead.  So it was a delight to read this post from Alex’s blog The Liberated Way.  In my opinion, Alex is spot on the mark.

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The rise of localism

Posted on August 6, 2014

Globalism and central control is coming to an end.

Bees are localised, sustainable and self-reliant, something humanity will learn the hard way.

Bees are localised, sustainable and self-reliant, something humanity will learn the hard way.

The first of a series of debates on Scottish independence from the UK took place yesterday, the vote for independence takes place next month. The campaign for Scottish independence is part of a larger paradigm shift away from globalism to localism around the world. Cornwall, Wales, Mercia, Yorkshire and Wessex are all campaigning for independence in the UK. Even in my town of Colchester we want to take back control of highways from external authorities.

The European elections this year resulted in a surge in anti-EU nationalistic parties doing well. UKIP which wants the UK to leave the EU was the clear winner in the UK in the European elections. The UN is increasingly seen as ineffective in the face of international crisis, often used by a few powerful nations, and ignored by practically everyone. Israel recently expressed the contempt nations now have for the UN by bombing UN schools in Gaza.

The USSR has broken up into small nations, as has Yugoslavia. Sudan split into two and Georgia into three nations. There is talk of California in the USA breaking into six states, and a growing but still small movements for other states breaking away from the Union altogether. The fighting in East Ukraine is as much about local Russians wanting to determine their own future as the international games of chess between the superpowers.

Flanders is seeking to break from Belgium; Catalonia and the Basque Country want to break from Spain; the city of Venice wants to break from Italy; Quebec is looking to break from Canada; Kurdistan and many other Peoples are seeking to form their own nation states out of the chaos of Iraq, Syria and Libya.

New forms of local currency such as the Totnes pound and electronic currencies such as Bitcoin challenge the bankers. Until recently my local council Essex Council was talking about creating its own bank for local people. Corporates such as Starbucks are considering creating their own currencies, in effect becoming their own banks. Multiple non-banking payment systems such as PayPal are now part of internet commerce. In the face of sanctions Russia has created their own version of VISA for citizens to pay their bills.

The internet has helped to break up the power of information monopolies where the citizen blogger is as effective as a journalist in the New York Times. The internet places greater power in the hands of the individual on the local level.

Water, energy, food and debt are the four great forces now driving the world politically, economically and socially. The many chasing a diminishing amount of resources drives people to fight or conserve their resources. Huge growing public and private debt is destroying nation states, driving the momentum to think local rather than global. The Greek economic crisis drove local people back to the land, to become self-sufficient, and create systems of trade outside of the global financial system.

I support localism, and I designed my business with localism in mind. The growing international crisis will force people to become local, sustainable and self-reliant. As the money runs out nations, communities and individuals will quickly learn that it is down to themselves to live or die.

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Couldn’t agree more.

Monbiot Unmasked

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Another reposting of a Monbiot essay.

I’m preparing this post on Sunday; i.e. three days ago.  Reason is that my sister, Elizabeth, and friend, Merle, are arriving on Monday afternoon (as in two days ago) bringing us up to three guests in the house.  My mother leaves on tomorrow morning and then Elizabeth and Merle depart on Friday morning.  So for all the right reasons, Learning from Dogs is taking a backstage. Hence me doing as much as I can ahead of time.

In Monday’s post, The tracks we leave, towards the end I wrote, “The utter madness of mankind’s group blindness is beyond comprehension.” Many know that there is something very badly wrong with the way politics is operating today. Yet, at the same time, many intuitively know the political changes that mankind has to see if there is to be any chance of a sustainable future for mankind on this planet.

Thus George Monbiot’s essay published on the 29th July makes encouraging reading in the context of the growing confidence of the UK Green Party.  It is republished here with the kind permission of George Monbiot.

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Unmasked

July 29, 2014

The justifications for extreme inequality have collapsed. But only the Green Party is prepared to take the obvious step

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 30th July 2014

When inequality reaches extreme and destructive levels, most governments seek not to confront it but to accommodate it. Wherever wealth is absurdly concentrated, new laws arise to protect it.

In Britain, for example, successive governments have privatised any public asset which excites corporate greed. They have cut taxes on capital and high incomes. They have legalised new forms of tax avoidance (1). They have delivered exotic gifts like subsidised shotgun licences and the doubling of state support for grouse moors (2). And they have dug a legal moat around the charmed circle, criminalising, for example, the squatting of empty buildings (3) and most forms of peaceful protest (4). However grotesque inequality becomes, however closely the accumulation of inordinate wealth resembles legalised theft, political norms shift to defend it.

None of this should surprise you. The richer the elite becomes, and the more it has to lose, the greater the effort it makes to capture public discourse and the political system. It scarcely bothers to disguise its wholesale purchase of political parties, by means of an utterly corrupt and corrupting funding system (5,6). You can feel its grip not only on policy but also on the choice of parliamentary candidates and appointments to the cabinet. The very rich want people like themselves in power, which is why we have a government of millionaires (7).

But that describes only one corner of their influence. They fund lobby groups, thinktanks and economists to devise ever more elaborate justifications for their seizure of the nation’s wealth (8). These justifications are then amplified by the newspapers and broadcasters owned by the same elite.

Among the many good points Thomas Piketty makes in Capital in the 21st Century – his world-changing but surprisingly mild book – is that extreme inequality can be sustained politically only through an “apparatus of justification.” (9) If voters can be persuaded that insane levels of inequality are sane, reasonable and even necessary, then the concentration of income can keep growing. If they can’t, then either states are forced to act, or revolutions happen.

For the notion that inequalities must be justified sits at the heart of democracy. It is possible to accept that some can have much more than others if one of two conditions are met: either that they reached this position through the exercise of their unique and remarkable talent; or that this inequality is good for everyone. So the network of think tanks, economists and tame journalists must make these justifications plausible.

It’s a tough job. If wages reflect merit, why do they seem so arbitrary? Are the richest executives 50 or 100 times better at their jobs than their predecessors were in 1980? Are they 20 times more skilled and educated than the people immediately below them, even though they went to the same business schools? Are US executives several times as creative and dynamic as those in Germany? If so, why are their results so unremarkable?

It is, of course, all rubbish. What we see is not meritocracy at work at all, but a wealth grab by a nepotistic executive class which sets its own salaries, tests credulity with its ridiculous demands and discovers that credulity is an amenable customer. They must marvel at how they get away with it.

Moreover, as education and even (in the age of the intern) work becomes more expensive, the opportunities to enter the grabbers’ class diminish. The nations which pay the highest top salaries, such as the US and Britain, are also among the least socially mobile (10). Here, you inherit not only wealth but opportunity.

Aha, they say, but extreme wealth is good for all of us. All will be uplifted by their god’s invisible hand. Their creed is based on the Kuznet’s curve, the graph which appears to show that inequality automatically declines as capitalism advances, spreading wealth from the elite to the rest.

When Piketty took the trouble to update the curve, which was first proposed in 1955, he discovered that the redistribution it documented was an artefact of the peculiar circumstances of its time. Since then the concentration of wealth has reasserted itself with a vengeance (11). The reduction in inequality by 1955 was not an automatic and inherent feature of capitalism, but the result of two world wars, a great depression and the fierce response of governments to these disruptions.

For example, the top federal income tax rate in the US rose from 25% in 1932 to 94% in 1944. The average top rate throughout the years 1932 to 1980 was 81%. In the 1940s, the British government imposed a top income tax of 98% (12). The invisible hand? Hahaha. As these taxes were slashed by Reagan and Thatcher and the rest, inequality boomed once more, and is exploding today. This is why the neoliberals hate Piketty with such passion and poison: he has destroyed with data the two great arguments with which the apparatus of justification seeks to excuse the inexcusable.

So here we have a perfect opportunity for progressive parties: the moral and ideological collapse of the system of thought to which they were previously in thrall. What do they do? Avoid the opportunity like diphtheria. Cowed by the infrastructure of purchased argument, Labour fiddles and dithers (13).

But there is another party, which seems to have discovered the fire and passion that moved Labour so long ago: the Greens. Last week they revealed that their manifesto for the general election will propose a living wage, the renationalisation of the railways, a maximum pay ratio (no executive should receive more than 10 times the salary of the lowest paid worker), and, at the heart of their reforms, a wealth tax of the kind Piketty recommends (14).

Yes, it raises plenty of questions, but none of them are unanswerable, especially if this is seen as one step towards the ideal position: a global wealth tax, that treats capital equally, wherever it might lodge. Rough as this proposal is, it will start to challenge the political consensus and draw people who thought they had nowhere to turn. Expect the billionaires’ boot boys to start screaming, once they absorb the implications. And take their boos and jeers as confirmation that it’s onto something. You wanted a progressive alternative? You’ve got it.

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/29/farcical-tax-system-cheating-billions-chase-avoiders

2. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/28/britain-plutocrats-landed-gentry-shotgun-owners

3. Clause 144, Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/10/section/144/enacted

4. http://www.monbiot.com/2011/03/29/the-freedom-swindle/

5. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jul/01/-sp-tory-summer-party-drew-super-rich-supporters-with-total-wealth-of-11bn

6. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/oct/29/capitalism-bankrolls-politics-pay-price

7. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/election/article-1280554/The-coalition-millionaires-23-29-member-new-cabinet-worth-1m–Lib-Dems-just-wealthy-Tories.html

8. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/oct/17/millionaires-corporations-tax-breaks-sway-opinion

9. Thomas Piketty, 2014. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Harvard University Press.

10. Thomas Piketty, as above.

11. Thomas Piketty, as above.

12. Thomas Piketty, as above.

13. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/28/supine-labour-lets-tories-daub-lipstick-pig-austerity

14. http://greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/Wealth%20Tax%20briefing%20July%202014.pdf

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Want to know some more about the UK Green Party?  Their website is here.

The tracks we leave.

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We will be forever known by the tracks we leave.

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The power of the truth.

When I saw that proverb I was deeply affected. Hence me taking the photograph.

It was seen etched onto a glass panel that was part of the otter enclosure at our nearby Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center, just a few miles from where we live in Merlin, OR.

Here’s why I was so affected.

My draft book of the same name as this blog is slowly coming together and I’m at the 30,000-word mark. A while ago, John Hurlburt, a good friend of this blog, was chatting to me and he spoke about the “interconnectedness of all conscious life”. It immediately appealed to me as a chapter in the book.

But while it was obvious to me that all conscious life is connected, for some time I struggled to achieve any clarity about what I wanted to write. Seeing that proverb kicked off the journey towards clarity.

Thus, today, I wanted to share the steps of that journey so far.

Over on the Skeptical Science blogsite there is a post, dated 15th April, 2010, with the title of Earth’s five mass extinction events. The author, John Cook, opens:

As climate changes, a major question is whether nature can adapt to the changing conditions? The answer lies in the past. Throughout Earth’s history, there have been periods where climate changed dramatically. The response was mass extinction events, when many species went extinct followed by a very slow recovery. The history of coral reefs gives us an insight into the nature of these events as reefs are so enduring and the fossil record of corals is relatively well known (Veron 2008). What we find is reefs were particularly impacted in mass extinctions, taking many millions of years to recover. These intervals are known as “reef gaps”.

Figure 1: Timeline of mass extinction events. The five named vertical bars indicate mass extinction events. Black rectangles (drawn to scale) represent global reef gaps and brick-pattern shapes show times of prolific reef growth (Veron 2008).

Figure 1: Timeline of mass extinction events. The five named vertical bars indicate mass extinction events. Black rectangles (drawn to scale) represent global reef gaps and brick-pattern shapes show times of prolific reef growth (Veron 2008).

So what, one might ask?

Well, forget about millions of years ago. Just 12 days ago, there was a news item released by Stanford University. It read in full:

July 24, 2014

Stanford biologist warns of early stages of Earth’s 6th mass extinction event

Stanford Biology Professor Rodolfo Dirzo and his colleagues warn that this “defaunation” could have harmful downstream effects on human health.

The planet’s current biodiversity, the product of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary trial and error, is the highest in the history of life. But it may be reaching a tipping point.

In a new review of scientific literature and analysis of data published in Science, an international team of scientists cautions that the loss and decline of animals is contributing to what

Elephants and other large animals face an increased risk of extinction in what Stanford Biology Professor Rodolfo Dirzo terms "defaunation." (Claudia Paulussen/Shutterstock)

Elephants and other large animals face an increased risk of extinction in what Stanford Biology Professor Rodolfo Dirzo terms “defaunation.” (Claudia Paulussen/Shutterstock)

appears to be the early days of the planet’s sixth mass biological extinction event.

Since 1500, more than 320 terrestrial vertebrates have become extinct. Populations of the remaining species show a 25 percent average decline in abundance. The situation is similarly dire for invertebrate animal life.

And while previous extinctions have been driven by natural planetary transformations or catastrophic asteroid strikes, the current die-off can be associated to human activity, a situation that the lead author Rodolfo Dirzo, a professor of biology at Stanford, designates an era of “Anthropocene defaunation.”

Across vertebrates, 16 to 33 percent of all species are estimated to be globally threatened or endangered. Large animals – described as megafauna and including elephants, rhinoceroses, polar bears and countless other species worldwide – face the highest rate of decline, a trend that matches previous extinction events.

Larger animals tend to have lower population growth rates and produce fewer offspring. They need larger habitat areas to maintain viable populations. Their size and meat mass make them easier and more attractive hunting targets for humans.

Although these species represent a relatively low percentage of the animals at risk, their loss would have trickle-down effects that could shake the stability of other species and, in some cases, even human health.

For instance, previous experiments conducted in Kenya have isolated patches of land from megafauna such as zebras, giraffes and elephants, and observed how an ecosystem reacts to the removal of its largest species. Rather quickly, these areas become overwhelmed with rodents. Grass and shrubs increase and the rate of soil compaction decreases. Seeds and shelter become more easily available, and the risk of predation drops.

Consequently, the number of rodents doubles – and so does the abundance of the disease-carrying ectoparasites that they harbor.

“Where human density is high, you get high rates of defaunation, high incidence of rodents, and thus high levels of pathogens, which increases the risks of disease transmission,” said Dirzo, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “Who would have thought that just defaunation would have all these dramatic consequences? But it can be a vicious circle.”

The scientists also detailed a troubling trend in invertebrate defaunation. Human population has doubled in the past 35 years; in the same period, the number of invertebrate animals – such as beetles, butterflies, spiders and worms – has decreased by 45 percent.

As with larger animals, the loss is driven primarily by loss of habitat and global climate disruption, and could have trickle-up effects in our everyday lives.

For instance, insects pollinate roughly 75 percent of the world’s food crops, an estimated 10 percent of the economic value of the world’s food supply. Insects also play a critical role in nutrient cycling and decomposing organic materials, which helps ensure ecosystem productivity. In the United States alone, the value of pest control by native predators is estimated at $4.5 billion annually.

Dirzo said that the solutions are complicated. Immediately reducing rates of habitat change and overexploitation would help, but these approaches need to be tailored to individual regions and situations. He said he hopes that raising awareness of the ongoing mass extinction – and not just of large, charismatic species – and its associated consequences will help spur change.

“We tend to think about extinction as loss of a species from the face of Earth, and that’s very important, but there’s a loss of critical ecosystem functioning in which animals play a central role that we need to pay attention to as well,” Dirzo said. “Ironically, we have long considered that defaunation is a cryptic phenomenon, but I think we will end up with a situation that is non-cryptic because of the increasingly obvious consequences to the planet and to human wellbeing.”

The coauthors on the report include Hillary S. Young, University of California, Santa Barbara; Mauro Galetti, Universidade Estadual Paulista in Brazil; Gerardo Ceballos, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico; Nick J.B. Isaac, of the Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in England; and Ben Collen, of University College London.

For more Stanford experts on ecology and other topics, visit Stanford Experts.

It hardly requires any imagination to realise that what we humans need in order to live, air, food, and clean water, is utterly dependant on us humans caring for the planet that sustains us.  It’s all too easy just to take for granted that we will always have air, food and clean water. Now go back and read that last sentence from Professor Dirzo. [my emphasis]

We tend to think about extinction as loss of a species from the face of Earth, and that’s very important, but there’s a loss of critical ecosystem functioning in which animals play a central role that we need to pay attention to as well. Ironically, we have long considered that defaunation is a cryptic phenomenon, but I think we will end up with a situation that is non-cryptic because of the increasingly obvious consequences to the planet and to human wellbeing.

The tracks we leave! H’mmm.

Let me move on in my journey.

Over on the EarthSky blogsite there was an item about the mysterious giant crater that appeared suddenly in Siberia.

Mystery crater in Yamal peninsula probably caused by methane release

Thawing permafrost likely allowed methane gas to be released, creating the large hole in permafrost found in northern Russia, says the Russian team that investigated it.

UPDATE July 31, 2014.

Stories are popping up fast in various media this afternoon about a likely source of a reported, mysterious hole in permafrost in the Yamal region of northern Russia. This hole was

The first mysterious crater spotted by helicopter in the Yamal region of northern Russia. Image via Nature.

The first mysterious crater spotted by helicopter in the Yamal region of northern Russia. Image via Nature.

spotted by a helicopter pilot in mid-July; reindeer herders reported a second hole some days later. Eric Holthaus of Slate said that there is now:

… new (and definitive) evidence … that the Siberian holes were created via methane released from warming permafrost.

The evidence has come via the journal Nature, which published a story on its website today (July 31) featuring the findings of Andrei Plekhanov, a senior researcher at the Scientific Centre of Arctic Studies in Salekhard, Russia, and his team. This is the team that was sent in to investigate the first hole shortly after it was found. Holthaus said:

That team measured methane concentrations up to 50,000 times standard levels inside the crater.

The story in Nature said:

Air near the bottom of the crater contained unusually high concentrations of methane — up to 9.6% — in tests conducted at the site on 16 July … Plekhanov, who led an expedition to the crater, says that air normally contains just 0.000179% methane …

Plekhanov and his team believe that it is linked to the abnormally hot Yamal summers of 2012 and 2013, which were warmer than usual by an average of about 5°C. As temperatures rose, the researchers suggest, permafrost thawed and collapsed, releasing methane that had been trapped in the icy ground.

Holthaus pointed out:

Last week, the New York Times’ Andrew Revkin interviewed a Russian scientist who had also visited the hole and came to similar conclusions.

This newly reported evidence, just coming to light today, seems particularly scary given the story earlier this week about what the University of Stockholm called “vast methane plumes” found by scientists aboard the icebreaker Oden, which is now exploring and measuring methane release from the floor of the Arctic Ocean.

Build-up and release of gas from thawing permafrost most probable explanation, says Russian team.

My last step in the journey about our interconnectedness involves water.

The Permaculture Research Institute published on the 31st July a Water Resources Fact Sheet. Here’s a taste (sorry!) of what was written:

Water scarcity may be the most underrated resource issue the world is facing today.

Water scarcity may be the most underrated resource issue the world is facing today.

Seventy percent of world water use is for irrigation.

Each day we drink nearly 4 liters of water, but it takes some 2,000 liters of water — 500 times as much — to produce the food we consume.

1,000 tons of water is used to produce 1 ton of grain.

Between 1950 and 2000, the world’s irrigated area tripled to roughly 700 million acres. After several decades of rapid increase, however, the growth has slowed dramatically, expanding only 9 percent from 2000 to 2009. Given that governments are much more likely to report increases than decreases, the recent net growth may be even smaller.

The dramatic loss of momentum in irrigation expansion coupled with the depletion of underground water resources suggests that peak water may now be on our doorstep.

Today some 18 countries, containing half the world’s people, are overpumping their aquifers. Among these are the big three grain producers — China, India, and the United States.

Saudi Arabia is the first country to publicly predict how aquifer depletion will reduce its grain harvest. It will soon be totally dependent on imports from the world market or overseas farming projects for its grain.

While falling water tables are largely hidden, rivers that run dry or are reduced to a trickle before reaching the sea are highly visible. Among this group that has limited outflow during at least part of the year are the Colorado, the major river in the southwestern United States; the Yellow, the largest river in northern China; the Nile, the lifeline of Egypt; the Indus, which supplies most of Pakistan’s irrigation water; and the Ganges in India’s densely populated Gangetic basin.

(The rest of this important article including the many useful links may be read here.)

Now, despite the despondent theme of the contents of this post, I am not beating a ‘doom and gloom’ drum. What I am trying to point out is that we are all interconnected.  Not just all of mankind but all conscious life.  Ergo, the destruction of natural habitats, the loss of every species, even the unwarranted killing of a wild animal is, in a very real and tangible way, the destruction of our habitat, the loss of our species and the unwarranted killing of future generations of homo sapiens.

It seems that whichever way we look the interconnectedness of all conscious life is staring us full in the face.  The utter madness of mankind’s group blindness is beyond comprehension.

It takes an ancient proverb from a people that lived in harmony with the planet to speak the truth. We ignore it at our peril.

P1140936

The Goon Show!

with 8 comments

Except this version isn’t funny!

I’m really showing my age and cultural upbringing through the choice of this title to today’s post.

For The Goon Show was an integral part of my ‘education’ during my formative years. Spike Milligan was an outstanding actor in The Goon Show, a comedy legend, along with Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe; not forgetting the narratives from Wallace Greenslade.

The Goon Show ran from 1951 to 1960 (I was born in 1944) broadcast by the BBC Home Service.

Spike Milligan after receiving his Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1992.

Spike Milligan after receiving his Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1992.

What’s this all leading up to?

Simply that a recent speech by George Monbiot reveals such utter madness in the upper echelons of the United Kingdom that only reflecting on The Goon Show offers any meaning to this old Brit. Not that the USA escapes Mr. Monbiot’s analysis.

Here’s how the speech opens:

The Pricing of Everything

Ladies and gentlemen, we are witnessing the death of both the theory and the practice of neoliberal capitalism. This is the doctrine which holds that the market can resolve almost all social, economic and political problems. It holds that people are best served, and their prosperity is best advanced, by the minimum of intervention and spending by the state. It contends that we can maximise the general social interest through the pursuit of self-interest.

To illustrate the spectacular crashing and burning of that doctrine, let me tell you the sad tale of a man called Matt Ridley. He was a columnist on the Daily Telegraph until he became – and I think this tells us something about the meritocratic pretensions of neoliberalism – the hereditary Chair of Northern Rock: a building society that became a bank. His father had been Chair of Northern Rock before him, which appears to have been his sole qualification.

While he was a columnist on the Telegraph he wrote the following:

The government “is a self-seeking flea on the backs of the more productive people of this world. … governments do not run countries, they parasitize them.”(1) He argued that taxes, bail-outs, regulations, subsidies, interventions of any kind are an unwarranted restraint on market freedom. When he became Chairman of Northern Rock, Mr Ridley was able to put some of these ideas into practice. You can see the results today on your bank statements.

In 2007 Matt Ridley had to go cap in hand to the self-seeking flea and beg it for what became £27 billion. This was rapidly followed by the first run on a British bank since 1878. The government had to guarantee all the deposits of the investors in the bank. Eventually it had to nationalise the bank, being the kind of parasitic self-seeking flea that it is, in order to prevent more or less the complete collapse of the banking system. (2)

You can read the full transcript and look up the references over on the George Monbiot website.

However, a real bonus is that his speech (delivered without notes!), his SPERI Annual Lecture, hosted by the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Sheffield, was recorded on video.

Please set aside a quiet hour (and a tad) to listen to George Monbiot and wonder at the goon show that we are all acting out!  In fact, watching his speech and his answers to a number of questions from the audience will give you something that the transcript just can’t convey.  Watch it!  You will be inspired!

(SPERI Annual Lecture by George Monbiot: “The Pricing of Everything” at the Octagon in Sheffield, UK, on 29th April 2014.)

Back to dear old Spike Milligan and to close with what seems like a very apt quote of his.

All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.

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