Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Spring Rambling

The relative leisure of winter is giving way now, as our hay fields and pastures spring back to life and begin to call for our labor. For the first time ever, we were able to have all of our manure spread on field and garden, with nothing left over. It's nice when your farm isn't constipated. Everything grows better that way.

We had just started plowing the manure into our garden when one of the spring clips on the left line to the horses popped loose. Though I regularly practice verbal "Whoa!" commands with the team for just such an event, they're just not used often enough to respond to this situation in the way I'd like.  As horses are wont to do when they sense something isn't right, they took off, and I no longer had control with only one line in hand. The newly renovated plow (all new handles) is now in need of another renovation, and the garden fence -- which stopped the horses -- didn't fare so well either. On the plus side, nobody was seriously injured, and the horses both survived with minor scratches. Never again will I allow snap-links in the lines!  It's not the first time they've let me down, and I was dumb to allow a second time.  It amazes me that they're "standard issue" on work harnesses.

At the recommendation of a friend, I recently read the book Lost Connections by Johann Hari. While I've never personally endured chronic depression, it's been in my family, and depression is something everyone experiences to some degree. This book is a fascinating read, documenting the author's own battle with clinical depression and experience with SSRIs. His revelations into the drug trials and the means by which these medications were approved are real-eye openers. 

Hoping to bolster his arguments, one of the biggest proponents of these medications looked in to how these trials were conducted and declared them to be completely useless. These trials showed SSRIs were only marginally better than placebos. Being told to get more sleep had a significantly greater impact on patients than SSRIs do, for instance. Drugs designed to have the *opposite* chemical effect had nearly identical results when tested in trials! 

Close investigation proved that the pharmaceuticals cherry picked the data to achieve their "slightly beneficial" results by excluding test subjects who showed zero improvement. Even worse is the fact that such test subjects are typically low income and are financially motivated to both claim symptoms that the trial is looking for and to claim that the drug helped them. Those recording the results of such trials are similarly motivated to believe these people, as such results help to justify and sustain their jobs.

With Hari's damning revelations, we can hopefully look forward to the end of SSRIs. Perhaps we can look forward to a reduction in school shootings and suicides that these drugs have caused since their introduction. While their benefits are absolutely questionable, their significant and negative side effects are quite well documented.

Hari's conclusion -- which closely mirrors that of Sebastian Junger's book Tribe -- suggests that depression is in fact a reasonable reaction to the detached lives our modern society has created. Community has all but been destroyed, as people bounce between different employers and residences every few years. As I've pointed out before, the automobile is in large part what enabled this destruction. That's precisely why those who greatly value their community -- such as the Amish -- refuse car ownership. Their views are absolutely not a "rejection of modern technology" that they're often portrayed to be. Not only are they quite insightful, but we're now proving them to be correct!

Despite spending massive amounts on plastic when I was into sailing and playing in the mountains (plastic boat, sails, lines, Gore-tex, cordura nylon, polyester fleece, etc), I've never really been a fan. Yeah, plastic enabled a lot of things that would otherwise be unaffordable or impossible, but there's a massive cost. We're just now learning how massive it is. It's all based upon fossil fuel feed-stock, produces loads of long-lived toxins, and now we're realizing that it's anything but inert. Our sythetic-fibered clothing is among the worst offenders. Most of it releases endocrine disrupting compounds, and degrades into micro-plastics which have been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and lead to brain damage. It's in our food and bodies, and it's destroying the natural world we depend upon. This is just a hunch, but considering that many of the compounds it releases mimic estrogen and other hormones in the human body, I think it's quite likely at the root of much of the gender confusion that now permeates our society.

There's not a day that goes by now when I'm not exposed to some new revelation that tells me we're fundamentally screwed. It's one thing to be fascinated by a car wreck, and quite another to realize that you and everyone you love are in the wreck as it's happening. Though I'm rarely successful for very long, even I try to look away nowadays.

We've already released enough CO2 into the atmosphere to expect a 7 degree (c) rise in temperature based upon historical observations -- a temperature well above any which may still support human life. Despite much trumpeting that would make one think we're making progress, we're not. Global CO2 emissions have climbed steadily for my entire life, despite ballyhooed events like Kyoto or the Paris Accord. Not only have they steadily climbed, but the rate of climb is accelerating, particularly within the last few years.  It's particularly disheartening to be met with fierce opposition from family members when I try to limit our energy consumption.  Most people -- even those who know better -- don't even seem to try, and I can see why.

Discussions of near-term human extinction are no longer the fringe concept they were just a few years ago. That's made movements like Extinction Rebellion possible. They're doing the right thing, regardless the ultimate outcome. They're calling for the UK to be completely carbon neutral by 2025. Is that possible? Yeah, anything is possible, but every action has consequences. There's little doubt in my mind that a large portion of the population will not survive such a change whether that's here or in the UK. Still, it's the only solution that *may* allow a small chance for continued human survival -- and that makes it a goal worth achieving.

The "Green New Deal" (GND) pushed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez probably sounds crazy to anyone who doesn't understand what's now happening, which I bet is still the majority of the population. As is often the case, the older generation often refuses to accept any change which will impact their remaining years, even if they know deep down that such change is the only chance their younger family members have.

I think the GND is worthwhile, but not because the technology it promotes will actually reduce our carbon emissions. We've already demonstrated that building a bunch of solar panels, wind generators, and electric cars has the effect of *increasing* carbon emissions instead of lowering them. That should come as no surprise, since they're all being manufactured with massive amounts of fossil fuels, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. So what then is the value in the GND? I think it's exactly what needs to happen in order for society to come to this realization. Just as a smoker who switches to "light cigarettes" hasn't really improved anything at all, a switch to "green" energy won't help us at all. The salvation of human life -- if the possibility still exists -- lies with de-industrialization. Let's hope it doesn't take too much longer before that concept becomes widely accepted. At the rate the biosphere is currently collapsing (particularly in the oceans), we can't afford to be slow learners.

A recent article in Der Spiegel document's Germany's "energiewende" difficulties with introducing renewables to power their grid. Suffice it to say that they're not going to reach their goals, despite being more technologically advanced and more motivated than most any other country on the planet.  The answer, as always, is to reduce consumption, reduce expectations, and live as we did before. Exceedingly few are willing to accept the obvious, but it's nice to see others coming to the same realization I've held for a while now. The Automatic Earth has a recent discussion of the subject which is worth checking out.

The NY Times recently highlighted two companies who are planning to mine carbon from the atmosphere, which they claim will help with reducing our CO2 emissions.  The articles then go on to explain that such carbon can be turned into fuels for sale (thus completely negating any carbon benefit and completely ignoring the laws of thermodynamics, but... well...).

The guys who produce the Crazy Town podcast recently ran the numbers for the task that these companies are supposedly undertaking.  Suffice it to say that *just the energy to run the fans* for such an operation, if it were to only cancel current emissions (but do nothing to actually reduce atmospheric carbon levels) would consume the entire electrical generating capacity of the United States.  The energy required to actually turn the CO2 into something stable or usable as fuel, of course, would dwarf the energy required for running the fans. The episode which covers this subject is They'll think of somethingisms, and is worth a listen.

Instead of swatting at flies, whether that's mental health issues, peak oil, overpopulation, plastics pollution, CO2 emissions, species extinction, chemical & nuclear contamination, or the many diseases of our sedentary lifestyle, let's try chopping at the root of the problem. Time and time again, if we dig down far enough, we find that the root is industrialization, and it's fed by fossil fuels. The two are inseparable.

It's within this light that I find my environmental and recreational interests converging.  My longtime interests in wild foods, foraging and hand-craft meshes very nicely with a reinforced disdain for plastic and all that it represents.  A lack of plastic is a requirement for my other recently-revived interest revolving around historical trekking, black-powder, and primitive skills.  I'm focusing on the late 18th century -- a period when industrialization was just starting to take hold.  It's also prompted a renewed interest in my own family history from that period.

My latest non-plastic creation
I haven't done a whole lot with it yet other than make a bunch of stuff (shirt, moccasins, axe, tomahawk,  knife, turn-screw (i.e. screwdriver), shooting accouterments, haversack, etc), but I'm enjoying the research as well as the activities.  I of course need to test my newly made equipment and newly acquired skills with frequent camping trips to the woods at the back of our farm.  It feels a bit like camping in my backyard when I was a five year-old, only this time my Dad isn't outside the tent trying to scare us with simulated bigfoot noises.

I'm getting very good at starting a fire with my home-made flint & steel, and am also getting better at cooking over a fire with my small reproduction trade kettle. I've been working on the use of a bow-drill as well, though I'm by no means proficient with starting fires that way.

If nothing else, playing 18th century woodsman is a nice way to pass the time while the world burns. It's a temporary respite from the stress that comes with reading the steady drumbeat of bad news about our collective future.

Few things are as pleasant as time spent in the woods listening to the the song of a nearby oriole, watching the wind on the pond, the flames of a campfire, or the busy activities of muskrats and turtles in the pond.

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