Wednesday, January 25, 2017

It's still worth fighting a losing battle, or "Learning to Die in the Anthropocene"

Turn Point Light Station on Stuart Island in the San Juans.
What does it have to do with this blog?  I'm not sure exactly.  I've been missing it lately, and am thinking of the fact that much of what makes it among my favorite places in the world is not likely to last long if we continue to avoid the reality of our current situation.  My wife and I sailed past here on our honeymoon, escorted by dolphins who regularly swim out to play with passing boats.

It's becoming increasingly clear that Trump's plan to "Make America Great Again" involve a return to America's "glory days", back when there was no such thing as the EPA, when rivers used to catch fire, the toxic clouds of Gary, Indiana contaminated anything and anyone unfortunate enough to be downwind, and DDT was the insecticide of choice.

His selection to lead the EPA has long campaigned for its destruction, and is also a climate change denier from  -- Oklahoma (I'm shocked, shocked!).

Better yet is Betsy Devos, his choice for education secretary.  She's a multi billionaire (her family wealth comes from being co-founders of the multi-level marketing scam known as Amway) who has been a lifelong advocate of abolishing public education in favor of private schools, preferably with a good dose of fundamentalist christian indoctrination. Want to see America complete its current trajectory of becoming a third world country of haves and have nots?  She's your lady!

Of course, nobody is all good or all bad, though most of us have trouble categorizing someone as both. My Grandparent's friends (who grew up in 1930's germany) once explained to me how Hitler had threatened a polluting cement plant with closure if they didn't clean up their act. Despite complaining that such measures were impossible, the plant did in fact clean up and remained in business (though I suspect that WWII might not have been all that good for them or their employees).

Trump isn't entirely bad either. Withdrawing from the TTP and calling for a renegotiation of NAFTA are both good moves which were supported by my candidate of choice in the elections. Unbeknownst to Trump, however, is the fact that a healthy economy is fully reliant upon a healthy environment with intact life support systems. By trying to improve our economy at the expense of our life support system, Trump will be dooming far more people to short and miserable lives with his actions.

I've recently had a conversation with two close family members, who are both convinced that things would be far better if people like me had voted for Clinton.  (I voted instead for Stein)  Both avid watchers of television, they couldn't fathom why I wouldn't favor her over Trump the Terrible. Suffice it to say that I'm convinced that she's a corrupt corporatist neo-conservative of the George W Bush type, with a bit of artificial leftist rhetoric thrown in to gain the acceptance of those who look no deeper into her record. Despite an occasional penchant for environmental rhetoric, her actual record on such issues closely mirrored that of Dubya, as did her extensive record on foreign policy.

Clinton's role along with that of her DNC and corporate media accomplices as not just immoral but criminal, in their back-stabbing of the best presidential candidate we've had in my lifetime (Sanders). If you haven't read Greg Palast's well researched account of how they rigged the California primary elections, you should.  If you think such actions were limited to California, I'd suggest taking off those rose-colored glasses.

I see Trump's primary value as the fact that his presidency appears to have ruffled the feathers of our corporate overlords (well, some of them at least). This is perhaps overshadowed by the fact that his actions will awaken this country's left, which has long laid dormant as corporate whores in both parties sold us out. Those on the democratic side keep us sedated through a steady stream of empty rhetoric to cover up the wounds left by their regular backstabbing (healthcare, education, environment, etc).  Fortunately, I see signs of people waking up to this fact now.  Better yet, trust in the corporate "mainstream" media is probing all-time lows.

I've long applied a litmus test of environmental ethics to any candidate I might support, because I view the environment as both of primary importance to all human activity, and because I'm convinced that it has been damaged much further than most people realize. The dramatic decrease in exposure to nature we've all undergone in our increasingly urbanized and industrialized world has done us no favors, and has made it easy to overlook the single greatest threat to our lives. Trump -- who rarely goes outdoors except to play on one of his golf courses -- is the poster child of this disconnect.

An understanding of exponential change is critical to understanding environmental degradation. The best illustration of exponential change I've seen is the example of duckweed. Placed into the right conditions, it can nearly double itself each day.  Imagine, if you will, a small pond with a clear surface, seeded with a single duckweed plant. The plant doubles itself each day, such that after 30 days the pond is completely covered. Stop for a moment and think.  At which point will the pond appear to be in danger of being completely covered? Day 29 (50% coverage), or perhaps day 28 (25% coverage) for the astute observer. The point is that things look just fine until the end is nigh. Such changes simply do not follow the slow, plodding linear path that most of us seem to assume.

Human population growth, and the damage we've wrought upon ourselves through industrialization is undoubtedly undergoing exponential change right now.  While our "pond" may not be completely covered just yet, signs of environmental failure are showing up everywhere.

One of my close family members has recently suggested flying out for a visit.  I'm all for the visit, but not so sure on the flying. While I try to communicate that our situation really is dire enough that she should rule out flying, I know that she (like most people) doesn't have the supporting knowledge to understand what I'm saying, and in fact avoids it whenever presented with such knowledge. It's depressing, after all, so I understand her position.

Guy McPherson, a university of Arizona biology professor and well known "doomer", has concluded that our planet will cease to support human life within a decade, with major changes occurring within the next two years. I'm sure that most would write off such claims as chicken-little fear mongering from a complete quack, given the background knowledge they've gleaned from the corporate media. I've read much of his work and listened to him speak, and I can assure you that he's no ignorant quack. As much as I would like to find a hole in his argument, I can't find anything of significance. While his timing may be off, his conclusions, based upon hundreds if not thousands of peer reviewed scientific papers, are not likely to be far off the mark.

I'd recommend visiting his website and reading his (extensive) climate change essay.  I'll happily buy a beer for anyone who finds any demonstrable flaws in the logic.

I believe much of his premise and short timeframe revolves around the coming "blue sea event" -- that being the point at which the arctic ocean first becomes ice-free. We've been flirting with that for nearly a decade now, but this last summer set new record lows, and this winter has seen an unprecedented drop in the winter re-freeze of sea ice. This event has the ability to set multiple feedback loops into high gear (McPherson counted some 67 feedbacks the last time I listened to him), such as the "clathrate gun" that NASA scientist James Hansen fears would end human civilization.

So how do I personally deal with such knowledge that I believe to be sound? I'm not entirely sure. I grapple with it daily. If you cannot improve the quantity of your life, perhaps you should work to improve the quality. I also find Roy Scranton's Learning to Die in the Anthropocene essay to be a very helpful way of viewing things.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Spending days and money

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives 
-- author Annie Dillard

I can't remember where now, but one of the blogs I frequent used this quote recently.  It made me think, something which I've been able to do a lot of lately.  It's easy to get caught up in our daily lives and end up going nowhere, so any goals we have need to be met through our daily actions.  They're not something to be saved for later, when things will be easier (which, quite often, is never).

Without the sort of job I've held for most of my adult life (40+ hours at a desk somewhere), I've found myself doing many of the things I want to do, spending my days as I would want to spend my life.

There are of course the daily tasks which never cease on the farm -- feeding, milking, watering, and scooping up after cows and horses, cutting/splitting/stacking firewood, etc, but now there's more. Those daily chores are in fact things I enjoy, even if scooping wheelbarrows full of poop doesn't sound like fun. You know that addictive endorphin response you get when you see a new email in your inbox or get a new "like" notification on Facebook?  I get the same thing when I find a big steaming cowpie nestled in the straw.

These tasks help me to achieve my life goals of better health for myself and those around me as well as reducing our environmental impact. I'm putting myself closer to life's essentials and am much less reliant on a destructive industrial system that is more primed for failure with each passing day. I'm fulfilling the dream of working with big monsters -- the dream that developed while my mom was reading books like Where the Wild Things Are or Dr. Doolittle to me as a toddler. Now the wild things are out in our barn, and some even have horns like the monsters in the first book (which they like me to scratch).  Others (Penelope the cow) like to express their affection by licking my beard with their goobery, cud-dripping tongues. Monsters can be a little annoying sometimes.

I like being out in the weather, even when it's 10 below, blowing, and snowing. Unlike sitting at a comfortable desk in a climate-controlled cubicle and looking longingly out the window, I'm alive. The good life isn't about achieving some leisurely, passive and risk-free existence of the sort promoted by Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous or the travel section of the New York Times. It's about making and doing things, and interacting with the world and its inhabitants. I don't like being a spectator.

When I initially quit my job in August, my idea was that I needed to jump into something lucrative like Donald Trump does (wood carving?) with a full-time dedication, or I was bound to fail and end up back in cubicle prison. Then again, the tech recruiters who keep calling haven't been following up much after seeing my latest resume. Might have something to do with quitting my last job cold turkey? I burned that bridge to keep my future self from getting scared and running back across it, and it seems to be working (thank you, former self! ... I think). Maybe I don't need to worry so much about returning to a cubicle so much as I need to figure out which bridge to live under.

Leatherwork: a dagger sheath
The problem is that I'm not sure there's any one thing that I really want to do 40 hours a week, non-stop. There are certainly lots of things I enjoy doing -- but anything gets boring if it's all you do. What I'd really like is to do a bit of everything. Farming, construction, remodeling, wood carving, blacksmithing, making things with leather (shoes?), tending to our bees, our orchard, logging, working with our horses, cutting firewood, and yes... scooping poop!
Blacksmithing: Henry's christmas present

Some friends have congratulated me for cutting the cord to the regular job, which I appreciate. At the same time though, I'm not yet convinced that congratulations are in order. While I've managed to escape the prison walls, the cops of fiscal responsibility and their bloodhounds are still hot on my trail.

So for now, I'm living my days the way I'd like to live my life.  I'm not sure how long it can last, but I'm enjoying it while I can.  Who knows, maybe I'll pull it off?