…. about the most peculiar species of all: man!
A number of essays and items from a variety of sources have passed my screen in recent times that ….. well, you complete the sentence! Let me illustrate; in no particular order.
I have long been a follower of the writings of George Monbiot. Those who haven’t come across Mr. Monbiot before can avail themselves of his background and dip into his articles, many of which underscore my proposition that we really are a peculiar race. For example, just three days ago George Monbiot published an article under the title of The Benefits Claimants the Government Loves. It highlights one mad aspect of UK Policy.
Corrupt, irrational, destructive, counter-productive: this scarcely begins to describe our farming policy.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 4th March 2014
Just as mad cow disease exposed us to horrors – feeding cattle on the carcasses of infected cattle – previously hidden in plain sight, so the recent floods have lifted the lid on the equally irrational treatment of the land. Just as BSE exposed dangerous levels of collusion between government and industry, so the floods have begun to expose similar cases of complicity and corruption. But we’ve heard so far just a fraction of the story.
You really do need to read the article in full to get your arms around the terrible state of affairs of the UK benefits scandal. But try this:
As a result of these multiple failures by the government, even Farmers’ Weekly warns that “British soils are reaching crisis point” (16). Last week a farmer sent me photos of his neighbours’ fields, where “the soil is so eroded it is like a rockery. I have the adjoining field … my soil is now at least 20 cm deeper than his.” In the catchment of the River Tamar in Devon, one study suggests, soil is being lost at the rate of five tonnes per hectare per year (17).
I could go on. I could describe the complete absence of enforceable regulations on the phosphates farmers spread on their fields, which cause eutrophication (blooms of algae which end up suffocating much of the freshwater ecosystem) when they run into the rivers. I could discuss the poorly-regulated use of metaldehyde, a pesticide that is impossible to remove from drinking water (18). I could expand on the way in which governments all over Europe have – while imposing a temporary ban for flowering crops – permitted the use of neonicotinoid insecticides for all other purposes, without any idea of what their impact might be on animals in the soil and the rivers into which they wash. The research so far suggests it is devastating, but they were licensed before any such investigation was conducted (19).
There is just one set of rules which are effective and widely deployed: those which enforce the destruction of the natural world. Buried in the cross-compliance regulations is a measure called GAEC 12 (20). This insists that, to receive their money, farmers must prevent “unwanted vegetation” from growing on their land. (The rest of us call it wildlife habitat). Even if their land is producing nothing, they must cut, graze or spray it with herbicides to get their money. Unlike soil erosion, compaction and pollution, breaches of this rule are easy to detect and enforce: if the inspectors see trees returning to the land, the subsidy can be cut off altogether.
Perhaps a clue to the extreme unfairness of who is in receipt of UK benefits can be explained by the fact expressed by George Monbiot above, “The biggest 174 landowners in England take £120m between them.”
With that in mind, let’s move on. Move on to a recent essay from Patrice Ayme: WAR MAKES HISTORY! To say it makes disturbing reading is, trust me, an understatement. But in the context of the UK’s rich landowners, as George Monbiot explained above, try this closing extract from Patrice’s essay:
We are a deeply equalitarian species. Out of equality rises our superior cultural performance. Plutocracy, the rule of the Dark Side, denies giving, love, and the equality which make us possible. Thus plutocracy is a denial of our species. Only an anger great enough to destroy it, will save us, and the biosphere. And there is hope: greed is neither as natural, nor as strong as anger.
It’s time to get angry against dictator Putin. Angry now is better than very sorry tomorrow.
War makes history. Of this we must think, if we want to make history better.
Frankly, my own knowledge of these ‘dark forces’, of the influence of money and power, is practically zero. But the more that one looks at the madness of so many aspects of mankind’s existence, the more one thinks the truth, as Patrice writes it, is the real truth. Indeed, here’s how Patrice opens his essay:
WAR MAKES HISTORY
HERE WE GO AGAIN
The earlier unjustifiable, unprovoked fascism, greedy plutocracy, imperial overstretch, murderous paranoia and other aspects of the Dark Side get smashed, the better.
Such is the most basic lesson of the 1930s.
For the millions of us that live relatively comfortable lives, it’s easy to read this stuff, nod sagely, and wonder if the heating needs to be left on this coming night. But, pardon the pun, wake-up calls as to the approaching nightmares (sorry!) are not hard to find.
Try this from an interview with Elizabeth Kolbert, as recently published on Grist:
In “The Sixth Extinction,” Elizabeth Kolbert reports from the frontlines of a dying world
By Grist staff
The New Yorker writer and acclaimed author Elizabeth Kolbert has a penchant for depressing topics. Her 2006 book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, helped push climate change into the mainstream (with bonus points for not mincing words in the title).
Now that climate change is safely keeping most of us up at night, Kolbert turned her pen to another big bummer: the sixth extinction. We’re currently losing species at a rate of 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than unassisted nature wiping out the occasional newt. While humans weren’t responsible for the last five mass extinctions, our fingerprints are all over this one. Yep: We collectively have the force of an asteroid when it comes to erasing species (high five, guys!) and for the most part, our response has been classic Urkel.
Q. You also write about some efforts to save species. Could you share some of those?
A. I happened to go to the San Diego Zoo, where they have a very impressive conservation program. I was there to see something called the “frozen zoo.” It’s just a bunch of vats of liquid nitrogen with cell lines from, in many cases, highly endangered animals and, in one case, an animal that doesn’t exist anymore, a Hawaiian bird. The idea is pretty much what it sounds like: You have these cell lines, you’re going to keep them alive forever, and eventually people are going to figure out how to resurrect some of these species. Or maybe if you don’t want to go quite that sci-fi, we’ll take the cell lines, we’ll do a DNA analysis, we’ll try to figure out why this population is having trouble.
They took me to see this bird named Kinohi, one of the last Hawaiian crows. He’s “reluctant to part with his genetic material,” let’s put it that way. He had been taken from this breeding facility on Maui to San Diego, and he is ministered to by a PhD physiologist who is trying to, let’s say, pleasure this bird, so that he will give up some sperm, so she can artificially inseminate a bird back in Maui. When I visited he had not yet, you know, come through. She was literally preparing to try again — I don’t know if it has ever worked, I should call her.
That was really, to me, emblematic of this crazy situation we find ourselves in. We’re incredibly smart, we’ve figured out how to freeze cell lines and quite possibly bring back extinct animals — we’re willing to pleasure crows. And yet, the Hawaiian Islands are called the extinction capital of the planet — it’s an absolutely devastated ecosystem. Many, many birds are extinct already; those that aren’t are just clinging to existence. Those forces are not changing and, in fact, things are getting worse. There used to be no mosquitoes in Hawaii; there are now mosquitoes. They carry avian malaria, and as the climate warms, avian malaria is moving up the slopes so that even these refugees species that are high on the mountains are increasingly not there. A lot of birds are in terrible trouble there.
All of these things are happening at once and, once again, they’re all true. People are devoting a lot of time and energy and love to trying to preserve these species, and meanwhile the world is increasingly screwed up. So that is how I end the book: They can both be true; it’s not one or the other.
Did you notice the reference to yet another example of mankind’s madness? “That was really, to me, emblematic of this crazy situation we find ourselves in. We’re incredibly smart, we’ve figured out how to freeze cell lines and quite possibly bring back extinct animals — we’re willing to pleasure crows. And yet, the Hawaiian Islands are called the extinction capital of the planet — it’s an absolutely devastated ecosystem.“
I believe inherently that the great majority of individuals are good people. Take Kevin Richardson for instance. Not for him money and power. Just a passion to save lions. Oh, and hugging them! Just watch, and be moved.
Don’t know how to close this? Maybe using a quotation from Ernest Hemingway:
The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places.
So in these broken times, let all the good people come out strong – stronger than those who are corrupt, irrational, destructive and counter-productive!
It is the ultimate time for hope and faith in the power of goodness!