Tag: South-West England

No signs of intelligent life!

Sometimes one just has to scratch one’s head and wonder about life!

I can’t recall when and where I first heard the muse as to why Planet Earth has not been visited by aliens, but I recall the answer: “Because alien passers-by have not found any signs of intelligent life!

The reason that this comes to mind is that the damage that we are doing to our planet, nay to life on our planet, if we don’t embrace the reality of climate change is truly ‘gob-smacking’!

The evidence for this statement is over-powering.  Just last Friday, I republished a recent essay from Tom Engelhardt under the title of ‘The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”  Tom’s essay focused on the lack of any change that came out of the recent Presidential election.  That essay closed, thus:

But stop waiting for change, “big” or otherwise, to come from Washington.  It won’t.  Don’t misunderstand me: as the residents of the Midwestern drought zone and the Jersey shore now know all too well, change is coming, like it or not.  If, however, you want this country to be something other than its instigator and its victim, if you want the U.S. to engage a world of danger (and also of opportunity), you’d better call yourself and your friends and neighbors to the colors.  Don’t wait for a Washington focused on its own well-being in 2014 or 2016.  Mobilize yourself.  It’s time to occupy this country before it’s blown away in a storm.

An inciteful comment from reader Jules was this:

“Don’t count on anyone doing the obvious: launching the sort of Apollo-style R&D program that once got us to the moon and might speed the U.S. and the planet toward an alternative energy economy, or investing real money in the sort of mitigation projects for the new weather paradigm that might prevent a coastal city like New York — or even Washington – from turning into an uninhabitable disaster zone in some not so distant future.”

A pity. Americans can do some things very well, the kind of stuff that merits some of the hyperbole of being the greatest nation, the ability to mobilise a nation and lead the world being one of them. We need heroes maybe it’s time for you lot to don that cape and be one.

Americans have such a potential for positive change – I just can’t imagine why this Nation isn’t leading the world to a more Earth-friendly environment.

This then came into my ‘in-box’ on Friday: Could NDAA be the Death of Biofuels in America?  The article opened thus:

The US military is one of the most important developers of new technologies leading them to a point where they can be released onto the market for public and private use. Currently the Department of Defense, led by the Navy, is attempting to reduce its dependence on oil by as much as 50% by 2020, by producing US-made biofuels.

and the author concluded:

Nicole Lederer, the co-founder of E2, despaired that, “the military often leads major economic transitions in our country. Yet right now in Washington, some shortsighted lawmakers are poised to block a potentially major transformation of our national energy supply – and also hold back the significant economic growth and job gains that would come with it.”

Russ Teal, founder of the biorefinery builder Biodico, warned that, “the military is the biggest driver of the biofuels industry right now. If Congress stops the military from doing what the military knows is best, Congress also could threaten the growth of the Made-in-America biofuels industry.”

By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com

Then more or less the same time as I read the piece above, in came the latest from 350.org, an essay by Naomi Klein.

Naomi Klein: Do The Math, The Fossil Fuel Industry Is Destroying Our Future

Naomi Klein was out in the shattered neighbourhood of Rockaway Park Queens last weekend, participating in the Occupy relief efforts there. In this interview she underscores the importance of both increasing local resilience as a response to our changing climate and addressing the fossil fuel industry’s business model directly. As 350.org’s Do The Math campaign makes clear, the fossil fuel industry’s business plan will destroy the planet. Bill McKibben reminded the “Do The Math”audience in Seattle this month that the global warming math is quite simple: we can burn 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2 degrees of warming. Anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on earth. The only problem? Fossil fuel corporations now have 2,795 gigatons in their reserves, 5Xs the safe amount. And they are planning to burn it all, unless we rise up & stop them.

So is there any hope?  So easy to think not.  But in terms of hope the answer is “Yes, yes and yes!”  Because the decent peoples of the world are way ahead of their politicians.  Take the transition movement.  I used to live in the village of Harberton, just 3 miles from the town of Totnes, Devon, in the South-West of England.

Totnes High Street

Totnes was the site of the world’s first transition movement: Transition Town Totnes.  But as the Transition US website reveals, there are now:

126 official US initiatives
437 official initiatives worldwide
33 US states
34 countries
13 languages

One of the latest has just been formed in the city where Jean and I were living until just a few weeks ago, namely Payson, Arizona.  Here’s a reflection from John Hurlburt in Payson, one of a group of committed citizens who, like so many millions of others around the world, just can’t wait for governments to ‘lead’ and was one of the founding members of Transition Town Payson.

Keep it Simple

We share a living planet as a living species. Corporate finance fuels political hate and denial. The divisiveness of global and national politics reflects an unprecedented escalating global crisis. We live in a world of constant sorrow.

Our stubborn ignorance is the greatest threat to the objectives of peace and well-being. We have become so entrenched in the ‘ruts’ of our conditioned opinions that any semblance of balanced responsibility is immediately numbed by the deliberate stupidity of well-paid spin-doctors across a global electronic media.

The recovery process is truly simple. Surrender to the scientific facts of our inclusive reality, clean house, and have compassion for each other.  The good news is that a basic natural instinct of all life forms is to survive through adaptation.

John Hurlburt

So, on reflection, I was wrong to open with the degree of irony in my ‘voice’ that I had.  This is now a world of wonderful and amazing communication channels, many of them directly ‘person to person’.  The views of the world’s peoples are now so much louder than in previous times.  I am confident that right, rather than might, will prevail.

Sands of time

Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.” Longfellow.

Longfellow, the only American writer honored in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Longfellow has been dead for 130 years, as of last March, but of his many wonderful words that have stayed with us over the last century and more, these must be some of the more familiar.  (Or am I showing my appalling lack of literary knowledge?)

Following on from yesterday’s post about the scary mathematics of climate change,  this really is the ONE thing that we have to learn from dogs; from nature.  If we don’t live in harmony with our planet pretty damn soon, then this particular civilisation is not far from extinction.  Let me remind you of a key paragraph from yesterday,

It’s simple math: we can burn 565 more gigatons of carbon and stay below 2°C of warming — anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on earth. The only problem? Fossil fuel corporations now have 2,795 gigatons in their reserves, five times the safe amount. And they’re planning to burn it all — unless we rise up to stop them.

Ergo, we do not have endless time available to us!

Otherwise the footprints left on those sands of time will be nothing more than the next civilisation pondering from time to time why those Atlantacists that sunk beneath the waves were unable to do anything to save their world!

If you think I’m being a tad excitable, then see what Rob Hopkins wrote recently over at Transition Culture.

New Economics Foundation’s ’100 Months’ campaign today reaches its midway point.  It was launched in August 2008 based on the understanding that the time that remains to us to avoid the likelihood of runaway climate change is limited, and based on the science at the time, there was a closing window of opportunity to do something meaningful about it.

Then adding,

“The question here is “what should we do differently?”  The answer is “pretty much just about everything”.  Nationally and internationally, while the scale and pace of climate change are accelerating, meaningful responses are dwindling.  Part of our collective paralysis comes from the fact that we struggle to imagine a world with less energy, less consumerism, less annual GDP growth.  What will it look like, sound like, feel like?  Does it inevitably mean that you should start seeking out your cave on Dartmoor [Devon in South-West England, PH] as we speak, and developing a taste for slugs?  Of course not.

Shortly before the 100 Months campaign began, I was part of initiating an experiment to see what a self-organised response to climate change might look like, one based on rebuilding community, on the belief that what is needed is people, everywhere, making their communities happier, healthier, lower-carbon, and more resilient, in a huge variety of ways.

Rob Hopkins was also asked to write a piece for the UK’s Guardian Newspaper in recognition that we are half-way through that 100-month campaign.  Here’s how Rob concluded that piece,

Transition Bath set up an energy company which has raised £250,000 in shares from local people. Transition town Totnes’ Transition Streets programme has enabled almost 700 local householders to reduce their carbon emissions while rediscovering a sense of community on their streets. Bristol soon sees the launch of the Bristol Pound, the UK’s first citywide transition complementary currency. Transition Brixton’s Brixton Energy is installing community-owned renewables supported by local people. Check out transitionnetwork.org to get a sense of the amazing projects under way.

At its core, this is about the belief that our best way forward is for communities to build local resilience in order to be able to better face the shocks of the present and the uncertainties of the future, from economic crisis to climate change, seeing increased community resilience as economic development. It’s a process of plugging the leaks in our local economies, seeing every leak as a potential new business, new livelihood, new apprenticeship opportunity.

Of course we need government responses, and international responses, but all of those will struggle without a vibrant bottom-up movement of ordinary people showing what’s possible and how thrilled they are by those possibilities. So although the answer is “pretty much just about everything”, I would argue that seeing this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for entrepreneurship, vision and action is where our successful navigation of the next 50 months lies.

Think about it!  What are you doing today?

An image of the future?

Yet another Saturday smile

When I was living back in South-West England, in the Totnes area, I had plenty of time to get to know Neil K.  Neil has the most wonderful sense of humour and an ability to look at the world rather differently than the rest of us.  I offer this tribute in acknowledgement of the great items that Neil passes to me for inclusion in Learning from Dogs.  This one is no exception.


The Story of Adam & Eve’s Pets 

Adam and Eve said, ‘Lord, when we were in the garden, you walked with us every day. Now we do not see you any more. We are lonesome here, and it is difficult for us to remember how much you love us.’

And God said, I will create a companion for you that will be with you and who will be a reflection of my love for you, so that you will love me even when you cannot see me.

Regardless of how selfish or childish or unlovable you may be, this new companion will accept you as you are and will love you as I do, in spite of yourselves.’ 

And God created a new animal to be a companion for Adam and Eve.

And it was a good animal and God was pleased.

And the new animal was pleased to be with Adam and Eve and he wagged his tail.

And Adam said, ‘Lord, I have already named all the animals in the Kingdom and I cannot think of a name for this new animal.’

And God said, ‘I have created this new animal to be a reflection of my love for you, his name will be a reflection of my own name, and you will call him DOG.’

And Dog lived with Adam and Eve and was a companion to them and loved them.

And they were comforted.

And God was pleased.

And Dog was content and wagged his tail.

After a while, it came to pass that an angel came to the Lord and said, ‘Lord, Adam and Eve have become filled with pride. They strut and preen like peacocks and they believe they are worthy of adoration. Dog has indeed taught them that they are loved, but perhaps too well.’ 

And God said, I will create for them a companion who will be with them and who will see them as they are. The companion will remind them of their limitations, so they will know that they are not always worthy of adoration.’ 

And God created CAT to be a companion to Adam and Eve.

And Cat would not obey them. And when Adam and Eve gazed into Cat’s eyes, they were reminded that they were not the supreme beings.

And Adam and Eve learned humility. 

And they were greatly improved. 

And God was pleased.

And Dog was happy.

And Cat . . . 

didn’t give a shit one way or the other.

British Otters

A wonderful ‘good news’ story.

Just a few days ago, the British news media carried a wonderful story about the resurgence of the otter in every county of England.  For many years, the otter was losing the battle for survival owing to hunting and trapping and the far South-West of England became it’s last refuge.

Then a combination of sensible legislation and public commitment to saving the otter became the turning point.

Watch this clip from ITN News from the 18th August.

Here’s a typical media report from The Independent newspaper of Thursday, 18th August,

Otters return to every county in England

Once the rivers were cleaned up, fish returned to once-polluted waters and otters began to spread back eastwards from their strongholds in Devon and Wales

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor

It has taken 30 years, but the otter’s comeback is now complete. After becoming extinct across most of England in the Fifties and Sixties, one of Britain’s best-loved animals has now returned to every English county, the Environment Agency announced yesterday.

The slow but steady recolonisation of its former haunts has been rounded off with the reappearance of otters in Kent, the last county to have been without them, the agency said.

The otter’s return represents a happy ending to one of the worst episodes in modern British wildlife history: the sudden disappearance of one of our most widespread and charismatic mammals.

The process began around 1956 and was almost certainly caused by the introduction of powerful organochlorine pesticides such as aldrin and dieldrin. Residues of these chemicals were washed into the rivers where otters lived, poisoning them.

As wild otters are hard to spot – their presence is usually detected by their spraints, or droppings – it was several years before the scale of their disappearance began to dawn on people, but by then they had been wiped out over vast areas of lowland England.

Despite the banning of organochlorine pesticides in the mid-Sixties, otters continued to decline, and their population reached a low point by the end of the 1970s, when they had effectively vanished from everywhere except the West Country and parts of Northern England (although good numbers remained in Wales and Scotland).

The first national otter survey, carried out between 1977 and 1979, detected the presence of otters in just over 5 per cent of the 2,940 sites surveyed; all the sites were known to have held the animals previously.

But then a comeback gradually began. Helped by a substantial clean-up of England’s rivers, which brought back fish to many once-polluted watercourses, and by legal protection, otters began to spread back eastwards into England from their strongholds in Devon and in areas of the Welsh borders, such as the Wye Valley.

By the time of the fourth otter survey, carried out between 2000 and 2002, more than 36 per cent of the sites examined showed otter traces; and when the fifth survey was carried out, between 2009 and 2010, the figure had risen to nearly 60 per cent, with otters back in every English county except Kent. Now wildlife experts at the Environment Agency have confirmed that there are at least two otters in Kent, which have built their holts on the River Medway and the River Eden.

“The recovery of otters from near-extinction shows how far we’ve come in controlling pollution and improving water quality,” said Alastair Driver, the Environment Agency’s National Conservation Manager. “Rivers in England are the healthiest for over 20 years, and otters, salmon and other wildlife are returning to many rivers for the first time since the industrial revolution.

“The fact that otters are now returning to Kent is the final piece in the jigsaw for otter recovery in England and is a symbol of great success for everybody involved in otter conservation.”

Otters are at the top of the food chain, and are therefore an important indicator of river health. The clean-up means that they are now inhabiting once-polluted rivers running through cities – something which would have been unthinkable before the population crash – and they have been detected in places such as Stoke-on-Trent, Reading, Exeter and Leeds, as well as in more likely urban centres, such as Winchester.

But although they are now widespread once more, otters’ nocturnal habits and riverine habitat make them difficult to glimpse, let alone observe, in England. The best place to see otters in Britain is Western Scotland, where the animals have become semi-marine and live along the coast. They can regularly be seen foraging along the shoreline in the daytime, especially on some of the larger islands, such as Mull and Skye.

 A lovely story with a powerful message – mankind can change things for the better, and frequently has done.
Representing the power of positive change!

Lose yourself in the night sky

Time to forget about all the ‘stuff’ in the news.

Dogs have that wonderful ability to savour the moment and just enjoy the present.  Seems to me that there is just a bit too much going on at the moment in the big wide world and we could do a lot worse than take a chair out into the garden, or wherever, and enjoy the majesty of one of the light shows that the universe can put on.

But first an acknowledgement to Mike Shedlock, more details here.  I subscribe to his daily newsletter and it was there that, rather uncharacteristically for an economic blog, I saw the reference to the Perseids meteor shower which, annually, provides vivid viewing for us earth-bound creatures this time of the year.

Mike gave the link to an article in National Geographic Daily News, from which I quote,

A Perseid meteor appears to strike the peak of Mount Rainier, Washington, in 2010. Photograph by Siddhartha Saha, Your Shot

Andrew Fazekas

for National Geographic News

Published July 25, 2011

A celestial traffic jam may be on tap this week as two meteor showers combine forces to put on a brilliant sky show.

One of the best shooting star events of the year is the annual August Perseid meteor shower. (See Perseids pictures.) However this year’s peak, on August 12, happens to coincide with a bright full moon—drastically cutting down the number of meteors visible to the naked eye.

Yet while the main event might be blocked out by the blinding moonlight, the opening act promises to be much better.

(See “Year’s Biggest Full Moon, Mars Create Sky Show [2010].”)

This year the lesser known Delta Aquarid meteor shower is expected to peak on Friday night, when the Delta Aquarids’ more productive Perseid cousin is just starting to ramp up.

Together the showers will produce anywhere between 15 and 30 shooting stars per hour under clear, dark skies.

If this tickles your fancy then go to that article and read how best to view this wonderful sky show.

We haven’t seen them from this part of the world (i.e. Payson, Arizona), but down in South-West England it was easy to get up onto the moors (Dartmoor).  Sunset at this time of the year down in Devon is around 7pm local time and by 8pm there was often a beautiful cloudless night sky.

Wikipedia has some good background information on the Perseid meteor shower including, what I didn’t realise, that,

The Perseid meteor shower has been observed for about 2000 years, with the earliest information on this meteor shower coming from the Far East.  Some Catholics refer to the Perseids as the “tears of St. Lawrence“, since 10 August is the date of that saint’s martyrdom.

I think most people are aware, again from Wikipedia, that,

The shower is visible from mid-July each year, with the peak in activity being between August 9 and 14, depending on the particular location of the stream. During the peak, the rate of meteors reaches 60 or more per hour. They can be seen all across the sky, but because of the path of Swift-Tuttle’s orbit, Perseids are primarily visible in the northern hemisphere. As with all meteor showers, the rate is greatest in the pre-dawn hours, since the side of the Earth nearest to turning into the sun scoops up more meteors as the Earth moves through space.

But to come back to the National Geographic piece, as above, this year could be better than normal.  As I wrote,

This year the lesser known Delta Aquarid meteor shower is expected to peak on Friday night, when the Delta Aquarids’ more productive Perseid cousin is just starting to ramp up.

Together the showers will produce anywhere between 15 and 30 shooting stars per hour under clear, dark skies.

So I know it could be a tough choice – politics or standing in awe under a night sky – but, go on, force yourself!

Try that night sky.

Why the Blog is called Learning from Dogs.

A reflection on the starting point of this Blog.

It struck me recently that many of you readers that come to Learning from Dogs on a regular basis, say, over the last 18 months, may not be clear as to why it’s called what it is, and the deeper issues behind the name.

First, the name.  Quite a few years ago I was sitting chatting with Jon Lavin, the co-founder of the Blog, in his home in South-West England.  My German Shepherd, Pharaoh (that’s him on the home page) was sleeping on the floor while Jon and I were nattering about the works of Dr David Hawkins of Veritas Publishing.  Jon mentioned that David Hawkins had measured the consciousness of dogs and that they came out about 205.  In other words they were integrous creatures and firmly on the truthful side of the boundary between truth and falsehood.

I was fascinated by that idea.  Later, back at my home, less than an hour away from Jon’s house, I was idly looking at domain names that were available, and imagine my glee when I discovered that learningfromdogs (dot) com was free.  It was rapidly grabbed.

A rather chaotic period of my life descended upon me but the notion that we have much to learn from dogs stayed with me.  Much later, when I was happily settled with Jean, the vision and purpose of the Blog got me under way.  The first post was published on 15th July, 2009.

The ideas behind the theme that dogs have an extraordinary relationship with man is contained in a very early piece written for the Blog back in July 19th, 2009.  That article is called Dogs and integrity.  But nothings stays still.  In that piece, I wrote,

Because of this closeness between dogs and man, we (as in man!) have the ability to observe the way they live.  Now I’m sure that scientists would cringe with the idea that the way that a dog lives his life sets an example for us humans, well cringe in the scientific sense.

However, on Sunday evening we watched a video from PBS that showed that scientists are now taking a very close interest in dogs and why they have such a special relationship with man, perhaps even a critical part in enabling man to prosper as hunter-gatherers.  Here’s a preview of that video programme.

Unfortunately, the video is not freely available from PBS.  However, it was based on the BBC Horizon programme, The Secret Life of the Dog, which I wrote about back in the 25th January, 2011.  (The YouTube link on that post appears to have been curtailed.)

Luckily there are a couple of options to watch this fascinating and very revealing documentary.  You can either watch it in sections from YouTube, the first 10 minutes is below, or you can watch it in full, if you don’t mind some Chinese translations here.  Your choice.

That’s enough for today, I shall return to this theme next week.