Friday, December 12, 2008


Nothing terribly exciting to report lately. Ashley the goat, who had chronic problems with worms earlier in the year (quite common for goats and sheep both), started having problems again. Rachel read that grey goats often suffer from copper deficiencies, and that copper deficiencies may lower a goat's resistance to worms. So maybe that's why she's having so many more problems than Mary Kate (who is brown).

One day she was looking particularly bad; she wouldn't stand up, and was shivering quite a bit as the worms really lower blood sugar and make it difficult to keep warm. Hearing stories about goats essentially dropping over dead in such situations caused a little concern, so we brought her inside to lay down in front of the wood stove that afternoon. She immediately perked up, but started screaming the instant I left the room, so I spent the rest of the afternoon working in the living room where she was. I was pleasantly surprised to see that she didn't leave any goat berries for us to clean up. Memphis the dog, however, was quite disappointed.

It was 15 degrees when I went out for this evening's milking. That means frozen teat-dip, but I've figured out that I can thaw it in the bucket of warm water I bring down for the pre-milking cleanup. I also figured out what I think was one of the causes of Buttercup's "dancing" in the stanchion, particularly towards the end of milking. We had left her halter on these last few weeks, thinking it was akin to a dog collar like the ones we keep on the goats. I decided that it wasn't really needed anymore, so took it off to reveal some sores along her jaw where her chewing caused it to chafe quite a bit. She seems to be a little less agitated now.

I've thus far tried to keep this blog on the subject of our adventures in farming, but I think it's time for a rant. Those of you who know me well know that I couldn't keep it hidden for too long. Below are the thoughts that run through my mind on most days.

Everyone who has ever been born is either dead, or will die someday. There's nothing new about that. Not everyone gets to live a long life; disease, famine, violence, accidents, and wars are an unavoidable part of human existence. But throughout most of history, I think most people have known that the potential to live to a ripe old age was always there, even if they themselves died young. Maybe their children would lead long and fulfilling lives.

I think that's changed now. I'm nearly certain that I will never reach "retirement" age, and I'm doubtful that my son will ever reach my current age. While I sincerely hope that I'm mistaken, I'm not really haunted by this thought anymore; I've come to accept it. On occasion I'm angry about it. I'm angry when I think that human greed and ignorance are the two things which have created this situation. But then I remember that human greed and ignorance on this scale are really unavoidable. So it's just something I have to accept.

So what dark and terrible force do I think is going to end our lives so abruptly? It's the coal generating the electricity to run the computer I'm typing on, among other things. You see, making carbon dioxide is the one thing that us 6.7 billion humans are *really* good at. In fact, there wouldn't be 6.7 billion humans if we weren't really good at this. The only reason there are this many of us is because we figured out how to use fossil fuels.

Maybe you've heard someone like Mr. Gore warn of a "tipping point", past which climate change rages uncontrollably due to feedback loops and leads to the end of civilization as we know it. Anyone who warns you about this is either ignorant or misleading in my opinion, because we've already passed it. Our planet is the Titanic, and we've already hit the iceberg. I won't blame you for trying to patch the leak, and will respect you much more than those who claim there's no leak. But I think the odds are stacked against you. Chances are that you've done little or nothing to patch the leak though, as have I.

So here's the iceberg I see floating in our wake. Here's the gash in our hull. CO2 is already at 380 ppb in our atmosphere, and rising something like 2ppb annually. The rate of rise in CO2 is going up quite a bit faster than the rise in our emissions, because all of the carbon "sinks" are collapsing.

Over 50% of the worlds coral reefs are now dead (some figures and anectodal evidence put it closer to 90%, so I'm being conservative here). Coral formerly absorbed massive amounts of CO2, in the form of calcium carbonate, which it turned into rock (limestone). In addition to warming the planet, CO2 has the ability to acidify water. A recently published study from the University of Washington showed that the rate of acidification is now progressing at 10-20 times the previously accepted rate used in climate modeling. Another marine survey has shown that the plankton (which are the basis of all life in the ocean) levels are down roughly 40% from a few years ago. Acid seawater kills plankton. Unfortunately, acidification occurs first near the poles, which is also where the bulk of our plankton live. Much of the oxygen in our atmosphere comes from these plankton. If the ocean goes, our oxygen goes away, and away we go. It's a real bummer.

And just for you folks whom Exxon and Peabody Coal's propaganda teams have convinced that climate change is either a myth or is "a natural cycle", the acidification scenario doesn't involve climate change. It's just carbon emissions.

So let's say that some new acid-loving plankton takes over and saves our collective fanny. It's not unreasonable to think it might. In that case, I figure that climate change will eventually toast our tootsies. If you think that climate change is a "natural cycle", then we'll all be killed naturally. Go warm up your Escalade and keep voting Republican.

The north polar icecap appears as if it'll be gone within 6 years (this figure keeps being revised to match that pesky reality -- a few years ago they thought it should live at least another 70 years). This alone is evidence that we've tipped. Ironically, the oil companies are scrambling to see what new oilfields the retreating ice has made available. There goes human greed and ignorance again.

So on the off chance that we haven't tipped, I think it's a really good idea to cut your carbon emissions, and I'll respect you more if you do it. Buy a Prius if it makes you feel good, but it won't really make a lick of difference so long as there are 6.7 billion of us around. We would need to cut our emissions over 90% if we hadn't already tipped, so anything short of that is really inconsequential.

If you really want sustainable, it's time to trade in your Prius for a spear and a loincloth. Unfortunately, that only works when there are far fewer than 6.7 billion people, and where we haven't poisoned most of the streams and lakes that were once the focus of subsistence living. We've burned that bridge.

So there's really not much to be done, other than that which makes you feel as if you're doing some good. I guess it's just time to sit back and enjoy the ride while we're all still here. Make the most of your life while you've got it. Enjoy yourself!

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