Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Clock is Ticking


The US Census recently released its estimated US population for the end of today and 2008. We're up to 305,529,237. The number is based on birth, death, and immigration figures which result in one more person in the country every 14 seconds.

If I've calculated correctly, US population has increased 81% during my lifetime. That's a horrific number in itself, but if you want to feel worse, world population has increased 138% during that time. People like me are often accused of seeing the glass as half empty instead of half full. The glass isn't half anything; it's overflowing.

It's long been believed that increased population and population density have negative effects on human society. Higher urban crime rates, stress levels, and the often expressed need to get away seem to bear this out. Larger denser populations result in a decrease of freedom and less opportunity to interact with the natural world. I don't have a high opinion of economics, regarding it as the evil twin of ecology, but it's an obvious fact that the more there are of an item, the less it is valued. I think that's just as true of humans.

Recently I witnessed an online discussion which stunned me. Apparently there's a cable tv show about a family with 18 biological children. The conversation was begun by a poster writing that these people had to stop. I was amazed to see the large majority supporting these people's "right" to have as many children as they wanted and it was no one else's business, at least as long as they weren't getting welfare. I do not understand how people do not get that they do not live in a vacuum, that actions have consequences and effects. It's time for rights-claiming Americans to grow up and learn some bigger words such as responsibility.

Maybe I'm giving them too much credit, but I bet these same people willingly accept that the annual euthanization of some 10,000,000 healthy cats and dogs in the US indicates overpopulation, and that too many deer cause problems in their neighborhoods. I've posted about books on the effects of our increasing population on other species. See No Way Home and Where the Wild Things Were for example, or look over this list of extinct species. Of course, generally humans don't really care what happens to other species.

But haven't they seen what I've seen? The childhood playfields turned into fenced lawns, the woodland walk turned into private property, the McMansions blocking the view of the water, the traffic jams? Don't they care?

Is the problem simply that humans are short term thinkers who can't see further ahead, that the more kids they have, the bleaker the future is going to be for those kids? Is it their religions which make them think they are somehow exempt from the laws of nature? Is it their technology and way of life which have estranged them from understanding and participating in the processes of the natural world? Is it fear of social collapse and denial of death or the American obsession with optimism? Is their ignorance accidental or deliberate?


During the time I've been writing this post, world population (and notice that when we speak of population, it's always just assumed it's human population because after all no one else matters) has increased by 7345 people.

Happy new year and thank you for not breeding.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Dave Foreman and Earth First!

Recently I got word of an upcoming attempt to breathe some new life into Earth First! which like many groups has been struggling to keep going in recent years. There are plans being made for a roadshow in 2009. I thought the following paragraph was particularly important.

We need to reconnect to the multi-generational aspect of Earth First!, which has fallen by the wayside in recent years. We need to broaden our network’s base—from radical rural grandparents to revolutionary urban youth. We need to re-establish lost relationships with scholars and scientists who resonate with us. We need to re-inspire musicians and artists to contribute their passion to our battles.

I've probably mentioned Derrick Jensen, a writer who shares my passions and values but rambles too much for me to completely enjoy his books. Fortunately, Listening to the Land: Conversations about Nature, Culture, and Eros, is published under his name but really amounts to essays by the people he interviews. Of the 30 or so interviews, I recognized 2/3 as major names in this field; so far, I've only read one interview with someone unfamiliar to me and immediately got one of his books from a local library.

But the first interview in the book is with Dave Foreman, who needs no introduction but I'll provide one with an article I wrote a couple years ago.

He was older, taller, thinner, quieter than I expected, having mentally locked him into an earlier time. I’d missed chances to meet him years ago so when I learned that Dave Foreman was going to be speaking in St. Paul, I made sure I didn’t miss the opportunity again. Among contemporaries, there is no one who has influenced my world view more than Foreman, through the writings and values he helped bring to the public through the Earth First! Journal and Wild Earth, espousing direct action in the 1980s and conservation biology in the 1990s.

Foreman remains a registered Republican who considered Barry Goldwater a hero, but is quick to point out that in 1989 Goldwater said that the Republican Party had been taken over by a bunch of kooks. Foreman blames Reagan for destroying bipartisan support for environmental issues, and describes our current political situation as creeping fascism. Along with citizens’ lack of concern for nature, he deplores our willingness to ignore the Bill of Rights.

During his noon presentation to mostly Macalester College students, he described the historic split between John Muir’s belief in the conservation of nature for its own value and Gifford Pinchot’s Forest Service view of the natural world as a resource. In the 1970s, environmentalism became defined as effectively a human health movement. While acknowledging the value of this aspect of the movement, it’s of little interest to Foreman and he argues that the movement needs to be taken back by nature lovers and treehuggers who are willing and proud to use emotion as well as science, who discuss values and vision as well as numbers. He sees climate change as the issue likely to bring environmentalists and conservationists together because it affects both areas of interest.

I think there are only three ways for our civilization to transform into one in keeping with my values: enlightenment (wishful thinking), revolution (inconceivable), and collapse (inevitable). Regarding predictions that there will be 9-10 billion people on the planet by mid-century, Foreman doesn’t believe we’ll ever reach those numbers because the crash will happen first. He thinks one of the best lifestyle choices for conservationists to make is to not have children, and not only because he doesn’t particularly like people.

When I asked him after the day’s talk how much hope he really had considering our civilization and population, he made a circle with thumb and index finger and it was not part of an OK sign. Knowing he’s not going to win (in the short term) does not mean he’s willing to stop fighting.

The one topic I wish I’d explored further with him is animal issues, not because either of us will ever change opinions or to argue which we agree is pointless, but because I’d like to understand his thinking on this. He cites the birth of lynx in Minnesota as something to get excited about, that we should have Lynx Day and celebrate but also is only an animal welfarist; he seemed to scoff at state agencies as resourcist but values connections with hunters.

I have one foot firmly in the conservationist camp and the other equally firmly in the animal liberation camp, though I seem to be the only person who believes such a split is possible. Though I often cringe at how little animal lovers know about nature and ecology, my position is that, for better or worse, the excitement and enthusiasm of nature lovers Foreman wants to see back in the movement is generated primarily by a love of individual animals, not by respect for ecosystems. I think his own examples of Lynx Day and mentioning the chill of excitement at hearing a wolf howl prove the point.

He opened his evening talk at Patagonia by calling this a time of despair for reasons which include mass extinctions, renewed whaling, our government’s anti-nature stance and cowardly Democrats, and the lack of enthusiasm and biocentric vision within the movement itself.

Considering his personal history, he was naturally asked several times during the day about what the government labels ecoterrorism. He thinks animal rights people have made stupid choices, but would like to see Japan’s whaling fleet on the bottom of the ocean. He said he left Earth First! due to the type of people becoming active in it as it became more anarchistic and more animal oriented, but didn’t mention the FBI pulling him from bed at gunpoint which must have been a factor.

He doesn’t know how much to believe about recent arrests because of FBI lies. He knew there was an FBI agent in the audience being bored; he said if his phone is tapped, they’re bored; if his bedroom is tapped, at his age, they’re bored.

He believes that among the causes of humanity’s biggest problems are our stubborn adherence to short term thinking and unwillingness to recognize/admit what is happening. It is not only foolish to rebuild parts of New Orleans but we should consider whether to spend large amounts of money trying to save the Everglades when water levels are going to rise and overrun them within 50 years.

Along with an old book I brought down to be signed, I picked up a copy of his newest Rewilding North America and look forward to his next The Myth(s) of the Environmental Movement. Though I would have preferred hours of conversation around a campfire, the few minutes we had after each of his talks were worth more than most days. I consider him one of my leading living heroes, and it’s never too late to meet one of those.

The interview with Jensen includes many more examples of Foreman using animal species as the exciting and joyful representation of wilderness and ecological health. I was originally planning to use this as an entryway to comparing radical environmentalists and animal rights activists, but I'm going to let that aspect wait a few days for its own post.

So back to the EF! split. Just as I feel somewhat torn these days between the two movements, the fracturing of EF! represented a difficult choice for me. My values in many ways were closer to those of the second generation of EF!ers than to those of the founders. I'm very concerned about animal issues and a believer in social justice but the new emphasis on political correctness made the use of the EF! name a joke. Earth was not first with these folks, but simply one part of an agenda which often seemed primarily focused on not offending each other. This attitude helped drive away many of the original folks mentioned in that quote way back at the top and it would be great to see the two sides reunite, though I have to admit I'm not very hopeful.

The split also turned one publication into two. The EF! Journal, linked to above, continued as a source of news of and reporting on events in the movement with a generally radical tone, while the more serious wilderness scientists started the fabulously high quality Wild Earth which like many magazines folded a few years ago.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Headline of the Year

From an email from the Center for Biological Diversity:

"California Commission Approves Damaging Transmission Line"

So get to it, you so-called eco-terrorists. The government's on your side for a change.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Now it's Winter (the Annual Celebration Post)

Not in the solstice sense, though that's cool in an astronomical pagan connected to the universe way.

No, it's winter because of the snow. A weekend blizzard was followed by two more days of snow less than a week later. It's never easy for me to estimate snow depth because of drifting and plowing and the many microclimates Duluth has. Snowfall's affected by distance and direction from the Lake as well as wind direction and height above the Lake. I guessed at 1 1/2-2 feet on the ground and that looks about right according to the national snow cover map. I'm so glad I live in the north.

Friday was a big Lake Effect snow day. It wasn't snowing when I woke up but when I looked an hour or so later there were several new inches on the ground. I took the Lakewalk, which had been damaged in the usual place by the blizzard the week before, to downtown. The clouds and water were a dark grey, the waves were among the best I've seen here, the snow was falling fast. I of course was giddy with delight.

The damaged section was in place but completely covered with ice from the spray of the waves. When a photo appeared on the newspaper's website later that day showing it cleared and reopened, I wondered if it had been taken the day before this storm or if it had been cleared again since I passed. The corner of the Lake was a churning bowl of ice water.

It's winter because of the first of the season car stuck in the drifts which accumulate in the alley just outside my window.
It's winter because of the frost on my kitchen window, a mix of straight lines and curls which together make a miniature forest.

It's winter because of the cold--early this morning I climbed to the university on the hill to get some library books now that the student hordes are gone for a couple weeks. I walked up the middle of the snow covered streets and under the snow covered conifers. It was well below zero and my beard was heavily frosted by the time I got there. One must be careful to let it defrost on its own; touch it too soon and it will snap off and you'll find yourself clean-shaven.

Later today, after the Lakecloud lifted away from the water, I saw ice and snow covering a large amount of the surface for the first time of the season. And it was good.

Oh, and while we're celebrating the snow and cold, watch the ads, sign the petition, and save the polar bear.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dunes: A Slowly Accumulating Mound of Coincidences; Followed by the Weather and Hopping Down the Bunny Trail

Along with my recent interest in (re)reading some classic literature has come a renewed interest in reading some fantasy and science fiction. I was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club decades ago but haven't paid much attention since. A book or series that I decided to read again is Frank Herbert's Dune, an ecological political sociological classic set on a desert planet.

In between novels from the library, I've been rotating reading from a few books of essays. A recent combination found me reading
Ed Abbey about southwestern desert dunes and Robert Finch about Cape Cod dunes. And of course it's those latter dunes I'm reminded of whenever I hike out on Minnesota Point.

Today I needed to buy some postage stamps and found them selling the latest in their Nature of America series. What is it? Why, Great Lake Dunes of course, showing a scene from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. (And, parenthetically, wouldn't it be great if the world was really booming with the dense concentrations of biodiversity shown in these stamp panels? Well . . . maybe not, considering there's a mouse as big as a fox in this latest scene.)

I visited Sleeping Bear Dunes back in 2000. I'm guessing at the year because I remember we had homemade Nader signs in the car windows. Or that may have been a completely different trip; I was spending a lot of time in Michigan back then. I'm sure I have notes in a journal but since I've thrown out my collection of old calendars, it's hard to find exactly when events happened.

Whenever it was, I remember the legend of the bear and her cubs. During a huge forest fire, the three bears were forced into the water to survive. The mother made it back to shore but the two cubs drowned. North and South Manitou Islands represent the cubs and the large dune on the mainland is mom waiting for them to return.

The sands are shifting beneath us all these days; many of us will be buried, some will learn to ride the sandworms.

Last week I went to see a local weatherman's lecture under the impression he was going to speak about ways in which local weather might be altered by climate change. Instead, during the hour I was there, he went over the usual graphs and statistics of rising carbon dioxide, etc. Never mentioned before I left was a handout listing how you could affect your climate which included a section on food but no mention of eating less animal products, only variations on the local and organic themes: a double failure of an evening.

I left you hanging with my last post. Did it blizz? Yes, but not as much as forecast. We got about 9 inches of snow followed by a deep freeze. On these well below zero mornings, the Lake is invisible, hidden beneath its own rising breath. Now that breath is forecast to turn into some Lake effect snow overnight and indeed we had a little this morning, the snow too small to be recognized as flakes, appearing as flashing pinpoints of light in the faint sunshine.

I've written of the rabbit(s) living in the brush pile opposite my window. Tracks have been appearing since the weekend snowfall. Today I couldn't resist any longer and climbed through the snow to see where they converged. There's a clear entrance formed by branches, looking a lot like one of the mine entrances you see in old westerns. Although imagining Watership Down and wishing I could set up a warren-cam to follow what's going on in there, I only got close enough to see the entry and then returned to my own lair.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Deep in the Peaty Blogs

I'm always on the lookout for blogs which reference deep ecology, and one that comes up in every search due to the blogger's self-description is Beyond the Fields We Know from Ontario. I finally took a look and found over three years worth of daily entries of lovely photographs and words. There's also a lengthy list of other artistic natury blogs which I randomly explored as a title caught my attention.

One of them led me to the Nature Blog Network which provides links to and descriptions of almost 600 categorized blogs focused on the natural world. I began meandering through the woods leaving a trail of bookmarks so I could find my way back. Nature remains in southern Ohio, there's Sitka Nature in Alaska, A Passion for Nature in western New York, Sand Creek Almanac right here in northern Minnesota, and I was especially happy to find the Moose Hill Journal inspired by a large Mass Audubon sanctuary where I spent many happy days hiking. And while we're back in Massachusetts, did you know Henry Thoreau has a blog? Yes, he's keeping his journal online these days.

These are just a few blogs which caught my attention; I'm sure the various link lists on those sites have many more just as interesting. I don't claim they're the best, I don't agree with everything I read on them, and I'm sure they'd all be horrified by statements on this blog. There are a lot of beautiful photographs out there which can be too slow loading on my archaic dial-up internet which started getting popular about 15 years ago and which I'm still completely content with.

I look forward to exploring these nature blogs, and I can certainly understand the motivation and attraction. If I did digital photography, I'd probably be showing you a photo of Lake Superior or the sky above every day. And nature writing has always been a favorite interest of mine, no surprise to anyone who's been reading this blog.

But just as Ed Abbey hated being called a nature writer, and like all the other areas I explore here and in the uncomputerized world, it will always just be part of a bigger whole. For me personally, only writing rhapsodically about fiddler crabs and fiddleheads while the sixth great extinction takes place and industrialism collapses is too much denial of reality, too much self-absorption. Joy and inner peace are fine things; anger and despair are just as valid a part of being alive, especially for anyone who cares about other species in these times.

I've never been interested in being a specialist or pledging my allegiance to any one school of thought, and therefore always find something to disagree with everywhere I look. Thoreau described himself as "a mystic, a transcendentalist, and a natural philosopher to boot." Me, I'm an anti-civilization, animal liberating, deep ecologist, spiritual atheist, Taoist animist, arts loving pedestrian with boots.

If the weather forecasters are correct (though a look outside and at a weather map gives me doubts) I'll need those boots the next time I go out. We've been under a blizzard warning since midnight with a foot of snow supposedly on the way, but so far little is happening other than 40 mph wind. Speaking of self-absorption, I've been slow in celebrating winter's arrival this year. Though in my defense, we only got our lasting snow cover about a week ago. There's plenty of heartwarming cold to come.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Moose & Wolves Again

Minnesota's moose are dying. Their population is now less than 2/3 of what it was about twenty years ago. Contributing factors are increasing temperatures which has very negative effects on moose because they don't perspire and stop eating, and parasites ranging from winter ticks to brain worms from the large deer population. And of course people keep shooting them but now there's even some discussion of ending that. Legally, anyway. Even if the law says don't shoot moose, some fine hunters will keep doing it. Need proof?

In neighboring Wisconsin, during the recent opening of deer-killing season
several federally protected wolves were shot and killed. Nothing unusual--it happens every year. I doubt if any of the killers had an Aldo Leopold moment of enlightenment after doing it either.
"We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes--something known only to her and the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view."
Back when I did a biweekly column for a local paper, I wrote one on hunting in town. It had a line to the effect that if I happened on a hunter about to shoot an animal, I would be willing to shoot the hunter if that was the only way to save the animal, and I'd consider it self-defense. The editor refused to include that sentence. Bring me the people who killed these wolves who should have been running and howling under tonight's full moon. This time I'll call it justice.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Rambling through the Dwindling Days

Later this month my grandfather will become 104 years old, making him twice my age. The thought of living again the same number of years I've already put in, while knowing my physical and mental prime is in the past, while the time periods of favorite memories fades further into the past, while the world you value is destroyed all around you, while everyone you love dies and you wait your turn, holds no allure for me--that's 52 years of deterioration I have no interest in experiencing. Fortunately, I think the ongoing collapse of industrialism ensures that the days of century old humans will soon be a thing of the past. And with the end comes the new beginning.

We're living in slow motion through a car crash of unprecedented proportions, unable to look away. More than half a million jobs disappeared last month, making almost two million gone in the past year with many more expected to follow. The still rising unemployment rate is at a 15 year high at the moment and doesn't include the hundreds of thousands who've found better things to do with their time than look for jobs under present conditions. Obama wants to put them to work rebuilding highways; far better to put them to work tearing up highways and planting community gardens and trees which will provide food for the locals. Trying to find alternative ways to keep living the same way is not the solution.

The use of food stamps and food pantries is soaring. Credit card companies are reducing credit limits and eliminating inactive accounts. The country's fetishistic worship of guns and violence reaches for its logical conclusion.

A record high 10% of mortgage holders are delinquent or in foreclosure. No doubt renters are similarly waiting for their eviction notices but we're considered second class citizens and rarely make the news when we lose our homes.
The rising number of unemployed will soon become the rising number of homeless if society tries to continue a way of life whose time has passed. Alternatively, the number of homeless could grow so large and be made up of so many "normal" people (as opposed to the mentally ill, the drug addicted, the traumatized veterans, the dregs which the middle class suburbanite is offended by and ignores) that society might actually change.

Perhaps as the middle class find themselves becoming the people they've always looked down on, society will decide that providing people shelter is more important than money and property and put all that emptied housing and office space to use. Perhaps if society doesn't decide it, the swelling numbers of the homeless will decide it for themselves. It's time for the homeless to begin taking over buildings as factory workers did yesterday in Chicago. It's time to stop playing by yesterday's rules.
...the American public is deathly afraid of the kind of changes we actually face -- such as, the end of consumer culture, the gross loss of value in suburban real estate (which forms the bulk of the middle class's private wealth), the prospect of food and fuel scarcities, the need to re-localize our lives, the need to physically shape up to stop the costly and unnecessary drain on our medical resources, to grow more of our own food, to work harder at things that actually matter, and to save whatever we can for a difficult future. -- Jim Kunstler, Does Mr. O Know?
But every morning I walk by a new Lake with crashing waves, or rising steam, or glistening icy rocks along the shore, or bright reflection; marvel at a sky of clouds filled with the reds and pinks and oranges of another beautiful sunrise; see a plant pushing its way through the pavement. And I know that long after my grandfather is gone, long after my flesh has fed a hungry wolf or beetle, long after everyone is done calculating unemployment rates and shooting each other, all those things, all those things that actually matter, will still be here. The nights are still getting longer, but dawn will come. It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.