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Messages - woozletracker

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1
Rewilding Mind & Heart / Re: Uncivilisation - The Dark Mountain Project
« on: October 20, 2014, 10:52:09 AM »
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language and terminology are obviously important, though at a certain point, less important than the overall message, and the work being done. there will always be someone who interprets your words differently than you intend.


Amen. I don't mean to say PR has no value either, just it's not the be [sic] all and end all. As the old (Chinese?) saying puts it: Don't look at my finger, look at the moon!

Possibly of interest: 'Five years on a mountain' - DM founders Hine & Kingsnorth give a retrospective talk at the Schumacher College in Devon five years after the publication of the manifesto and shortly after the 'last' festival:

Earth Talk: Five years on a mountain - Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine


Or if you'd prefer something to read check out Dougald's piece, 'Remembering Uncivilisation', also published in the 5th DM book. Sample:

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Someone said, one Sunday morning, almost embarrassed, that this was the closest thing they had to going to church. All along, it was there, the awkward presence of something no other language seemed fit for, the wariness of a language that so easily turns to dust on the tongue. Here is one way that I have explained it to myself. A taboo, in the full sense, is something other than a reasonable modern legal prohibition: it is a thing forbidden because it is sacred and it may, under appropriately sacred circumstances, be permitted, even required. Now, the space that we opened together, as participants, was a space in which certain taboos had been lifted: some that are strong in the kinds of society we have grown up in, some that have been stronger still in the kinds of movement many of us have been active in. Not the obvious taboos on physical gratification—most of what they covered is now not prohibited so much as required, in this postmodern economy of desire—but the taboo on darknesses and doubts, on naming our losses, failures, fears, uncertainties and exhaustions. In response to our earliest attempts to articulate what Dark Mountain might be, people we knew—good, dedicated people—would tell us, ‘OK, so you’ve burned out. It happens. But there’s no need to do it in public and encourage others to give up.’ Instead, it seemed, one should find a quiet place to be alone with the disillusionment. Perhaps become an aromatherapist. If I have any clue where the power of Dark Mountain came from—knowing that it came from somewhere other than the two of us who wrote the manifesto—then I would say it came from creating a space in which our darknesses can be spoken to each other. (From here, among much else, we may begin to question why the movements we have been involved in seem accustomed to use people as a kind of fuel.) By the second or third year of the festival, though, I found myself wondering if the sacred nature of taboo might not work both ways. If a group of people creates a space in which taboos are lifted, perhaps this in itself is enough to invoke the forms of experience for which the language of the sacred has often been used?


cheers,
I

2
Rewilding Mind & Heart / Re: Uncivilisation - The Dark Mountain Project
« on: October 19, 2014, 04:59:51 AM »
Yes, I can vouch for the affinity, having been involved with the DM folks from the second unciv festival. All questions answered to the best of my abilities :)

I had similar misgivings about the choice of 'uncivilisation' as a banner word, although it did appeal to my darker desires to see (perhaps participate in) an active 'unraveling' of the dominant culture. I doubt that was the intent behind it though. Here's the relevant bit from the manifesto referring to the early 20thC poet, Robinson Jeffers:

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Jeffers, as his poetry developed, developed a philosophy too. He called it 'inhumanism.' It was, he wrote:

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a shifting of emphasis and significance from man to notman; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence ... This manner of thought and feeling is neither misanthropic nor pessimist .. It offers a reasonable detachment as rule of conduct, instead of love, hate and envy ... it provides magnificence for the religious instinct, and satisfies our need to admire greatness and rejoice in beauty.


The shifting of emphasis from man to notman: this is the aim of Uncivilised writing. To 'unhumanise our views a little, and become confident / As the rock and ocean that we were made from.' This is not a rejection of our humanity--it is an affirmation of the wonder of what it means to be truly human. It is to accept the world for what it is and to make our home here, rather than dreaming of relocating to the stars, or existing in a Man-forged bubble and pretending to ourselves that there is nothing outside it to which we have any connection at all.


(Although typing out that Jeffers quote makes me wonder if he means what the DM authors take him to mean. The 'reasonable detachment' part sounds pretty dodgy to me...)

At the end of the day, what's in a word? Is the point to encapsulate everything the movement stands for or to invite further discussion and elaboration? The Occupy crowd did lots of useful stuff IMO, despite some highly pertinent criticism of their choice of word from indigenous people whose perspective and understanding of 'occupation' was much more keenly felt than most of the other participants.

'Rewilding' has already turned into a buzz-word meaning hundreds of different things to different people (see here, for example). I think most have little or no understanding of its use in the kind of context employed on this site. What's the response to that - dump the word and come up with a new one? Make an effort to articulate the different connotations of the word? Struggle to hold onto it and monopolise the meaning? Use it as a back door to slide the philosophy sneakily into the public consciousness? Loads of options, but isn't it all just PR in the end? Why not simply focus on what makes sense to you & yours in the here & now? A lived philosophy. It can spread by example without the need for a name, and thus hopefully avoid the dangers of co-option.

cheers,
Ian

3
Common Misconceptions / Re: Cultural Appropriation
« on: October 18, 2014, 05:58:18 AM »
Thanks for this and your other posts, Mindy - very nicely written.

'Feeling like a stranger everywhere' indeed. I've heard African-Americans and -Europeans speak in a similar way about trips to their ancestral land. On the one hand it feels like coming home, but at the same time it's a strange place and they feel a greater (or different, but stronger) sense of belonging to the places they were born and raised up. What does it mean to 'get in touch with your roots' when your family line was transplanted generations ago to a totally new continent thousands of miles away? Plants don't really have a choice about where their roots go: it's straight down into the soil they're standing on. Transplanting is a hugely traumatic process, but the fundamentals of getting adequate water and mineral nutrients for survival don't change.

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I do want to have compassion for even the most idiotic-seeming cultural appropriators. It's hard having the history and nature hammered out of you.


Yes, I agree. Watching the documentary Peter linked to above (
Becoming a Native American in the Czech Republic on Vimeo
) about the Czech 'Indians', I had a similar reaction: while sympathetic to the appropriation argument and understanding that there's really no excuse for pirating another culture's traditions, I was left with a curiosity about just how weird it was, and how it came about that these young people felt they had to live in that way. (One thing I learned from anthropology was that it's pointless to judge another culture from your own culture's standpoint - you don't learn anything by doing that.) I have Czech ancestry myself and have seen quite a few examples of the fetishisation of 'wild west' 'cowboys & injuns' culture, as they perceive it. A close family member is a fan of Ernest Thompson Seton (who got namechecked in the film) and has a summer house in the mountains where he has built teepees and totem poles, and hosts a 'potlach' every four years or so where all his old Czech buddies come to get wasted, have ceremonies and music round a big fire, and play boy-scout type games the morning after. It's a lot of fun! But yes, this topic has made me question many aspects about that culture. I'm thinking of sending along some of the above material to see what my relative has to say...

It was interesting that the Native Americans who did the documentary and visited the Czechs, while having their initial reservations, eventually went away thinking of it as a positive phenomenon over all (discussion from 1:03). Although there was an account of others who denounced what they were doing in very strong terms as well, which was hard to argue with. The excuse the leader came up with - that he had suffered oppression and destruction of culture at the hands of the communists in a similar way to the Indians - didn't wash for me.

Anyway, that leads to the question of where to locate my own identity, born into a strange land with two foreign parents unsure from the first how to make their way, and an ancestry scattered across Eastern and Western Europe. It's a difficult one, to which I haven't come up with many answers (other than the one about embedding your roots into the ground where you stand).

best,
Ian

4
Rewild Camps, Events & Meet-ups / Re: Acorn Camp
« on: October 18, 2014, 05:14:09 AM »
I'll have to get my hands on N.Turner's stuff then, I guess. Not sure how I might implement some of that in my current circumstances! I might stick to keeping a load of grounds in a paper bag at the back of the cupboard for now...

'Off' years are depressing. This one hasn't been so bad because Beech, Walnut and Sweet Chestnut have been quite abundant, but a few years ago I had the 'no nut blues' for about six months after only Chestnut gave a tiny harvest. Hard not to take it personally! Cool of you to focus on other aspects of the relationship. Hope it goes well.

cheers,
I

5
Rewild Camps, Events & Meet-ups / Re: Acorn Camp
« on: October 14, 2014, 10:28:00 AM »
I'd be interested to hear how the skillshare goes, or how it went if you did it already. Been thinking of doing the same kind of thing over here, but unfortunately it's an 'off' year for the oaks. Might have to try the percolation method next time. Let us know how that works out too?

One question that's been nagging me for a long time and would love to hear an answer for: what does an acorn-based culture (or any other culture using tree crops for their main subsistence) do when the trees don't produce, or only produce a little? Are there special pruning techniques that ensure a yearly harvest? Do they rely on surplus crops stored over from previous years? Or do they simply move their efforts to other plants/animals to see them through until the following year?

cheers,
Ian

6
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The exportation of exploitation is something that most people don't realize.

Yup. 'The battle outside raging / Will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls' sang Dylan in the 60s, but it hasn't quite happened yet. Another example that strikes me is fracking and other 'unconventional' oil extraction. On the one hand it's horrifying to see it being rolled out in this country, with politicians framing the laws so that nobody has the right to refuse the fracking companies if they decide to go ahead and drill next to your house. They're going to wreck this Green And Pleasant Land if there isn't a strong counter-mobilisation. But then how come it's so pleasant here when Britons consume more gas and oil products than practically any other people on Earth (with honourable exceptions :) ) This country used to be a grimy shithole - not pretty but at least it was honest. Now that stuff has gone out to sea or off to Nigeria and the middle east. In a very weird way I'm almost happy the fossil fuel industry is coming back here: chickens coming home to roost and all that. It will certainly wake a lot of people up. Trouble is they will be going for the poor, deprived areas first. Already there's a disparity between the protests in the wealthy South-East (lots of media exposure, some successes) and those up North (heavy-handed policing, minimal media coverage). ie: the bubble is not going to burst everywhere at the same time, and the powers-that-be will play us off eachother and attempt divide-and-rule colonisation tactics to the last...

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each new generation normalizes the level of destruction they are born into

'Shifting baseline syndrome'? Monbiot talks about it a lot, though I'm sure I've heard others say similar things. Crazy to consider the importance of freshwater fish (including ocean-going migrants) providing a large proportion of the protein in British diets up until very recently. As a serious forager I never even considered looking to the rivers for food.

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if 50% of the worlds wildlife was destroyed in 40 years by a population of 3-7 billion people, how can we use that to predict a timeline for the total destruction of wildlife?

Interesting question. Sickening to even think about it really... My first thought was that it might actually take longer because, a bit like the peak oil situation, civilised humans have gone for the most easily-accessible & meatiest fish, mammals, birds, and the ones left behind might not be worth the effort. But then it's not just direct hunting that's causing the losses, but habitat destruction and the conversion of diverse ecosystems to monocrop farms. Most of the loss of diversity is happening in the tropics at the moment, especially in the rainforests. That's where the 200-extinctions-a-day are mainly coming from as far as I know. But does that represent a wholesale loss or are we talking about a process of simplification as has happened in temperate Europe, Asia and America - ie: loss of many large keystone species and mass deforestation, but a continuation of species adapted to open grassland-type environments? Agriculture seems way more destructive in the tropics, more rapidly leading to soil erosion and desertification etc... I keep returning to the fact that it's total numbers, biomass that we're talking about, not just diversity. All those wild bodies literally being converted into the flesh of domesticated humans and their small band of plant & animal allies, many more simply going up in smoke, lost to the massive entropy of civilised subsistence... But when will it come to a halt? How can we bring it to a halt? More unanswered questions...

Sorry to hear about the suburbs taking your forests. I had another think, and I remembered at least one invertebrate species that has massively declined in my lifetime: the honeybees. They've been decimated in recent years. But I've noticed lots more bumblebees around, perhaps compensating? Frustrating how you can never really know for certain with these things.

I'll stop there before I get even more depressed!

cheers,
I

7
Meant to mention this article, which makes a few important points:

http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2576309/to_save_the_worlds_wildlife_first_we_must_love_it.html

...especially this one about the true tragedy not being the final extinction of individual species, but the environmental degradation and simplification over the decades, centuries, millennia leading up to that final death:

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Extinction is the end of long period of attrition

What most interests me about this report is that it is looking at the numbers of animals themselves. Too often the attention is focussed on the demise of a species. But the moment of extinction is really rather trivial compared to the decades before.

Thom van Dooren described this well in his book, Flight Ways. The loss of the last of a species is nothing compared to the loss of the mass of individuals before that one, which is nothing compared to the loss of functionality within the ecosystem and which is topped off by the evolutionary loss - the millions of years and individuals that have gone in to creating that one, last creature.

All of this is being wiped out by our violence. Van Dooren describes it as a "violence that is often rendered invisible ... by its slowness."

How can we stop that violence? The first thing is to become aware that it is going on - and this report is a valuable step in that direction. But we need to look deeper than a simple awareness as that will tend to give us a false sense of security.

8
Still not sure how to process news of this kind:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/29/earth-lost-50-wildlife-in-40-years-wwf

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The number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, according to a new analysis. Creatures across land, rivers and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats, the research by scientists at WWF and the Zoological Society of London found. [...] The steep decline of animal, fish and bird numbers was calculated by analysing 10,000 different populations, covering 3,000 species in total. This data was then, for the first time, used to create a representative “Living Planet Index” (LPI), reflecting the state of all 45,000 known vertebrates.

The fastest decline among the animal populations were found in freshwater ecosystems, where numbers have plummeted by 75% since 1970. [...] The number of animals living on the land has fallen by 40% [...] Marine animal populations have also fallen by 40% overall


The trouble, I think, is that the stats come from somewhere alienated to my everyday experience. Over the short time that I've been alive (and the even shorter time I've been paying close attention) the conditions for wildlife around me have apparently stayed much the same - even improved somewhat. 200 species going extinct every day across the globe, I hear, but in the UK it seems to be 'only' one extinction every year on average, mainly among the invertebrates (since most of the larger vertebrates were exterminated centuries ago) - sad, but I'm not sure how I would even notice, barring knock-on effects.

This appears to be another case, like climate change, poverty, disease, famine, etc. where my material circumstances, where I was born and where I continue to live has sheltered me from the worst aspects of the global ecological catastrophe:

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The biggest declines in animal numbers have been seen in low-income, developing nations, while conservation efforts in rich nations have seen small improvements overall. But the big declines in wildlife in rich nations had already occurred long before the new report’s baseline year of 1970 – the last wolf in the UK was shot in 1680.

Also, by importing food and other goods produced via habitat destruction in developing nations, rich nations are “outsourcing” wildlife decline to those countries, said Norris. For example, a third of all the products of deforestation such as timber, beef and soya were exported to the EU between 1990 and 2008.


I hear (via Monbiot again) that huge areas of Europe that were formerly under cultivation have been reverting to a wild state and will continue to do so, leading to incredible opportunities for large, landscape-scale rewilding. Is this because the agricultural industries have finally decided to let up and allow the non-domesticated living community to have its space? No, of course not: as with other industrial manufacturers they're simply taking their operations elsewhere, where they can make bigger profits. Simon Fairlie challenged the new-born rewilding movement in Britain with a similar point in a recent edition of The Land Magazine:

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The more we rewild in Britain, the more food we will need to import and the more we are likely to dewild land in countries that provide us with substitute food. Conserving our natural environment at the expense of other people’s is a neo-colonialist agenda. There is an environmental price to pay for having so foolishly allowed England to become one of the most overpopulated countries in the world, but that price should not be paid by people and environments in other countries. (‘Rewilding and Food Security')


I feel like I'm living in a bubble. On one level I don't want the bubble to burst, don't want to lose my illusions, but on another I realise that no real progress will be made until that happens and we (in the affluent West) finally have to deal with all the shit we've been pumping out into the rest of the world for all this time.

9
Common Misconceptions / Re: New Theory on N. Am. Extinctions
« on: October 06, 2014, 10:22:02 AM »
Yeah, you can only 'waste' something that you've claimed total ownership over and denied the rights of access to anybody else, to the point where you forget that they even exist. I catch myself thinking this way about the veg growing (sometimes 'the veg I'm growing' - what hubris!) on my allotment patch all the time: 'Oh there's too many courgettes for me to make use of, I'm going to have to throw some of them away. What a waste!' or 'The bloody fox got to my corn just as I was getting ready to harvest it. All that effort gone to waste!'.

Interesting about the people of the deer. I wonder does killing 'as many deer as they could' mean a lot more than they would conceivably need, even as insurance, or did they get to a cut-off point where they recognised that enough was enough? Would be interesting to know if their population went through boom and bust phases along with food availability like D.Quinn's theory suggests.

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I still think that small bands of hunter-gatherers wouldn't be killing huge amounts of animals to cause a "die off" but then again, anything is possible


Well, surely not on purpose - why exterminate your own food supply? The thing that struck me about the Solutre situation is that the horse remains had built up over thousands of years ('The bone-laden magma can be explained by the fact that the site was used by four great paleolithic civilizations [sic] over the 25,000 years from 35,000 to 10,000 B.C, an extremely long time period.' - wiki). So yes, they killed a bunch of them, possibly more than they needed then & there, but the horses kept coming back, choosing to follow the same migration year after year, generation after generation. What does that tell you?


Keep meaning to read Nancy Turner after your recommendations in various places. I wish there was something similar available for indigenous cultures in Europe :(

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Are you interested in helping us write any of the main articles? I think your knowledge and research and sources would really help.


Yes, that could be fun - which one(s) did you have in mind? I'm not really that scholarly though - it's mostly just clicking through from the citations on wikipedia articles. Force of habit from uni days ;)

cheers,
I

10
Common Misconceptions / Re: New Theory on N. Am. Extinctions
« on: October 04, 2014, 10:15:48 AM »
Hi Peter,

Yes, the food waste allegation seems dodgy. 'Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence' as the saying goes. Monbiot (not 'Monibot' btw :) ) has provided a theory, but evidence to support it is incredibly thin. I don't know how you could even attempt to prove something like that, this far removed from their immediate circumstances.

Not sure it's exactly true that 'no wild animals waste their food'. What about surplus killing? Predators like foxes, wolves, stoats etc. will opportunistically kill more prey than they require for immediate sustenance if they happen to be in a situation where that's possible and the additional risk or effort isn't too great. Sometimes they will cache the other carcasses for a later date, other times not  - in which case other scavengers or even just bacteria & fungi come in to take care of the 'waste'. It occurs to me that human hunters might have done this too (possibly they still do in some ways, I don't know). One prehistoric case that people have seized upon in Europe is the discovery of loads of horse carcasses buried around the Solutre rock in France (see here). The first researchers thought that Mesolithic hunters were driving whole herds off the top of it to fall to their deaths, but this has been revised to the theory that they were trapped and killed by the side of the rock. Apparently they didn't make full use of the carcasses:

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The vast number of individual horses, many articulated remains, the scarcity of butchery evidence and the lack of evidence of transportation of skeletal elements away from the sites suggested that large numbers of horses were killed at any one time and that their intact carcasses were not fully exploited. The minimal butchery may reflect the way in which the horses were hunted. It is suggested that the horses were ambushed as they followed a migratory trail. Hunters would have killed as many horses as possible before the herd panicked and took flight. This method would have produced many carcasses, from which perhaps only a few were selected for further processing.


Possibly this was due to their abundance especially in the summer months. They also found a smaller number of reindeer and bison carcasses, with the reindeer showing 'more intensive evidence of butchery, indicative of full utilisation of their carcasses' - perhaps due to the fact that they were 'hunted in winter and spring' when other game would have been scarce. Either way the concept of 'waste' - which comes with some very civilised assumptions - perhaps shouldn't even come into it, because whatever the human hunters didn't eat became available for the rest of the community:

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carnivores also utilised the carcasses extensively and were probably responsible for the destruction of some elements, e.g. the sacrum. This is interpreted as the opportunistic scavenging of the remains of animals killed by Magdalenian hunters, although the intensive gnawing means that the possibility of some carcasses by carnivore kills cannot be ruled out.


Like that Nancy Turner quote a lot. It points to all the things overkill theorists are missing by ending their discussion of prehistoric h/gers at 'they caused mass extinctions'. Well maybe, but what happened next? How come there's such a strong correlation between areas of high biological diversity with the presence of indigenous people?

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W.W.F. has devised a new approach to its conservation work called Ecoregion-Based Conservation (E.R.B.C.). In developing this approach, it has mapped out 874 ecoregions of the world, and has found 238 of them to be of the utmost importance for biodiversity.

In collaboration with the international N.G.O. “Terralingua: partnerships for linguistic and biological diversity”, W.W.F. carried out an exercise to map all identifiable indigenous and ethnolinguistic groups of the world on the G200 map. The results show a very significant overlap of the biodiversity-richest areas of the world with high concentrations of distinct cultures. (http://www.terralingua.org/blog/2000/07/16/indigenous/)


I have a slight quibble, though, with Turner's point about how 'ecosystems have become further diminished in the absence of the cultural practices that once sustained them'. Isn't 'diminished' a subjective term here? I only mention it because conservationists over here use similar arguments as a kind of claim to virtue for the reinstatement of old farming practices which created heathland and wildflower meadows for the use of livestock from what used to be forest, wetland or other 'unproductive' land. Likewise coppicing in woodland is justified on the grounds that it 'increases biodiversity' because of more sunlight reaching the woodland floor, leading to more flowering plants, butterflies etc. But then this comes at the expense of all the species who depend on the exclusion of light and the consequent damp, dark environment provided by a thick tree canopy. These are apparently now the most threatened species in Britain due to largescale loss of habitat:

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High diversity of habitat is clearly an undesirable general goal: the costs and benefits depend on the scale of the habitats. A diverse park or garden may have more landscape or educational appeal than a dense, dark oak or spruce monoculture, and more species of vascular plants - but more specialist, vulnerable, and globally rare species could inhabit the woodland. Mud and sea lochs may not be diverse, but are important habitats.

Coppicing, which turns woodland into glorified scrub, is again a useful example. It is often thought to increase habitat diversity since the rotational cutting of patches of the coppice woodland gives an impression of variety. However, this may be an artefact of the way people see habitats: fractal geometry shows that architectural diversity is scale-dependent, and to many organisms there may be more habitat diversity in a mature woodland although it may seem homogeneous to an animal as large as a human. The smaller the organism, the greater the rate of loss of habitat as felling occurs. A large late-successional habitat, such as a forest with natural treefall gaps, will often have a high habitat diversity - with both very high species richness and quality.

To saproxylic organisms, species requiring large or complex structures, or abundant foliage, coppicing does not increase diversity. Sterling and Hambler (1988), and Waring (1988) have found coppicing damaging to woodland spiders and moths. It may benefit butterflies like the Pearl-bordered and Heath Fritillaries, Boloria euphrosyne and Mellicta athalia . However, such butterflies have alternative habitats on woodland edges, rides, and even on grasslands and heathlands respectively (Thomas 1986). Is it ethical to 'diversify' or create habitat for them at the expense of the woodland species such as the epiphytic 'lower' plants - the true natives of much of our landscape, with nowhere else to go except extinction?


I feel like there's a difference between this and 'tending the wild' scenarios but I'm not sure what it is.

Would be interesting to hear Jason pitch in again :)

best,
I

PS the main site is looking great already - good job!

11
Common Misconceptions / Re: New Theory on N. Am. Extinctions
« on: October 02, 2014, 01:04:20 PM »
Checking the book again, I see Monbiot references Paul S. Martin's 'Twilight of the Mammoths' (2005 - the inventor of the 'overkill' theory still selling his wares...) and a 2006 review by Koch & Barnosky, 'Late Quartenary extinctions: state of the debate' from the 'Annual review of ecology, evolution, and systematics'. It's online here behind a paywall / library subscription, but here's the abstract:

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Between fifty and ten thousand years ago, most large mammals became extinct everywhere except Africa. Slow-breeding animals also were hard hit, regardless of size. This unusual extinction of large and slow-breeding animals provides some of the strongest support for a human contribution to their extinction and is consistent with various human hunting models, but it is difficult to explain by models relying solely on environmental change. It is an oversimplification, however, to say that a wave of hunting-induced extinctions swept continents immediately after first human contact. Results from recent studies suggest that humans precipitated extinction in many parts of the globe through combined direct (hunting) and perhaps indirect (competition, habitat alteration) impacts, but that the timing and geography of extinction might have been different and the worldwide magnitude less, had not climatic change coincided with human impacts in many places.


So right away it doesn't seem to fit Monbiot's strong assertions that 'it was not, as many paleontologists supposed, primarily climate change that wiped out the American megafauna [...] They were hunted to extinction. [...] they probably stood and watched, without fear, as the hunters approached.' ('Feral', p.138) More recently he's been citing the work of Chris Sandom and others who spoke at the Oxford Megafauna Conference - see this hysterical article from last March, or bypass and go straight to Sandom's paper, summarised here.

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Humans versus climate

Sandom and his team gathered records on individual species known to have gone extinct between 132,000 years ago (at the beginning of the last interglacial period) and 1,000 years ago. They focused their analysis not on the continent level, as many studies have, but country-by-country or even state-by-state, in large nations like the United States. All told, the researchers analyzed 177 extinct mammals that had weighed more than 22 lbs. (10 kilograms).

The researchers then compared the timing of the extinctions with changes in climate and precipitation, and with human migration. 

"What we found was, in sub-Saharan Africa, you've got the least extinction," Sandom told Live Science. "In Eurasia, you've got the next-least." [Wipe Out: History's Most Mysterious Extinctions]

This fits the human-hunting hypothesis well, he said. Large animals in sub-Saharan Africa would have had millions of years to co-evolve with humans as they learned to use tools. When early humans moved into Europe and Asia with their primitive hunting methods and weapons, they would have had access to a new population of animals unaccustomed to their clever ways.

In Australia and the Americas, where humans arrived comparatively late, the extinctions were the most extreme, Sandom said.

"You've got this very advanced hunter arriving in the system," he said, not unlike the invasive species that cause native extinctions today. The researchers did not find a strong overall relationship between extinctions and climate, except in Eurasia, Sandom said. Climate there might have interacted with human arrival in a complicated way, with temperatures determining where people migrated, he added.

Overall, humans' arrival was responsible for 64 percent of the variation in extinction rates around the globe, while temperature changes explained 20 percent of the variation, mostly in Eurasia.

Climate change can stress animals, Sandom said, but climate variations do not always spell doom for species — animals may simply alter or restrict their range in order to find a habitat that sustains them. Humanity may have disrupted this adaptive process for large mammals, he said.

"That was the final straw," Sandom said. "They couldn't handle the new predator turning up."


Not sure I buy every aspect of it - some of his wording is very silly and shows the usual lack of understanding about hunting cultures - but there it is. Certainly more measured and qualified than Monbiot's ridiculous macho-hunter-kill-everything-in-sight depiction!

I'd be interested to see your sources and/or other theories. I'm aware of the guy quoted in 'Endgame' (second book from p.541), Eugene S. Hunn, with his 'this beast, like dracula, will not die' debunking and Jensen's native american friend pointing out the racist subtext, but it would be good to see this updated in response to the newest wave of research.

cheers,
I

12
Common Misconceptions / Re: Agriculture: villain or boon companion?
« on: September 22, 2014, 10:12:12 AM »
Found this: http://www.hilltribe.org/karen/karen-vocation.php

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Traditionally, most Karen work as farmers--a profession that allows them to be indepedent and free. Liviing in the mountains and forests, they plant according to the seasons and the soil conditions of the area. Traditionally, the food they produce has been for personal consumption, not for sale to others. This holds true for raising animals. Chickens, pigs, etc. would be consumed by the family raising them, or amongst friends and relatives in the village.

However:

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The ancient profession of farming amongst the Karen has begun to change, keeping in step with major changes in technology and market forces. The Karen no longer farm simply for self-sufficiency, but have now become commercial farmers, attempting to produce as much as possible for shipment to the market. In order to accomplish this, they have had to start using greater and greater amounts of land and use modern technologies to replace more traditional ways. In the past, for example, water buffaloes were used to plow the fields. Now, modern gas-powered machines have replaced them. These changes have caused Karen farmers to begin competing both against the clock and against each other, each farmer trying to produce the greatest yield possible.

Though it sounds like they're talking about the lowland farmers here (apparently there are lots of Karen spread through Burma and Thailand - wiki), those who had already converted to flooding rice paddies and re-using the same piece of land. Other depressingly familiar changes include movement from gift economy to cash and wage labour and the embracing of tourism. But the previous article suggests it's more 'traditional' up in the hills. Or at least it was back in 2004... There was this ominous bit:

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However, currently, the level of economic development is increasing in the communities, and the introduction into highland areas of many new plant species which require increasingly frequent use of the land, cause soil disruption, and require the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides will result in more intense use of the land. The long-term, permanent use of the land, as opposed to the rotational cultivation system, will cause the death of the land and invasion by plant pests.

Culture erosion = soil erosion and vice versa. It's happening everywhere  :(  >:(

13
Common Misconceptions / Re: Agriculture: villain or boon companion?
« on: September 21, 2014, 03:34:35 AM »
To me, agriculture is a tool of horticulturalists, so in that was is "sustainable", in that they don't solely rely on it. To me, most of the cultures Vera mentions, and even the Karen appear to be horticulturalists. I may be mistaken but I really do think it's important to make the distinctions. Perhaps its a particular kind of agriculture that is more unsustainable, like plowing fields instead of burning, etc?


Yes, it felt strange to think of the Karen as horticulturalists, being predominantly rice farmers (for some reason I picture horticulturalists more as veg and root-crop growers)  but they fit the definition... It didn't occur to me that you could farm grains as part of a rotational system, rather than insisting on their continued cultivation on the same piece of land year after year. On the sustainability question, the main claim in the article related to soil erosion:

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The results of research conducted by Chanpen Chutima Teewin of the impacts of the Karen people's rice cultivation method on soil surface showed that the rotational farming system of the Karen currently causes soil erosion below the accepted standard level (0.2 tonnes/rai/year). The study stated that the rice cultivation method of the Karen and Lua peoples uses the land in a manner which does not cause soil erosion, and that this was achieved by growing plants that do not disturb the soil, by digging holes to plant seeds, and by growing a variety of plants, such as fertilizing plants and ground-cover plants. This cultivation method is effective in lowering and preventing soil erosion in highland areas. Chanpen's study states that of ten areas studied, six areas had soil erosion that did not exceed the accepted standard, and four areas had very little soil erosion.


I suppose 0.2 tonnes/rai/year still represents some soil erosion, even at a small rate, but probably the other plant communities that come in during the fallow years build up the soil to compensate, so the overall effect might be to build topsoil rather than strip it away totally. Impressive for hill farming! By contrast the 'type 4' rice farming of 'Long cultivation-very long fallow or abandonment' seems to support clicketyclack's point about sedentary vs. nomadic people:



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With the exception of the fourth type, the practice of these farming models require the farmers to establish permanent settlements.


Makes sense really - if your food-growing system depletes the soil beyond repair you have to move on once it's exhausted. Agriculturalists as the true nomads, who'd-a thought it!

how does this fit in with the fire used in a place like the pacific northwest's oak/camas prairies?


Interesting question - fire is obviously also a source of 'catastrophe'. The only major differences I can think of at the moment are that, unlike plough cultivation, fire doesn't disturb the soil in the same way (perhaps the microbial/fungal life would survive a light burn? - I don't know), and it doesn't totally reset the ecological clock because the big trees are left (in the oak system at least).

Will check out that new ag stuff in a bit. Looks v. interesting at first glance!

cheers,
I

14
Common Misconceptions / Re: Agriculture: villain or boon companion?
« on: September 18, 2014, 01:46:52 PM »
How about swidden, aka slash and burn cultivation? Still a field (ager) of sorts, but there's a rotation system in place to allow high forest to make a comeback. It doesn't even have to be grains (see: manioc) and there's plenty of 'unofficial' crops to make use of while the area goes through the various fallow stages back to the climax ecosystem. Funnily enough Vera recently sent me an in-depth piece about the Karen people - rice farmers in the Thai highlands which might be of interest:

http://www9.ocn.ne.jp/~aslan/karen/karenpmp.htm

There's some antagonism evident in their social rituals, many of which are about encouraging the rice plants and warding off incursions from wildlife or disease, but still they have strong animist perceptions and a great sensitivity to the ethics of their actions within the wider living community:

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After the New Year is celebrated, the village chief begins to survey forest fallow for dry (upland) rice farming. All the villagers follow his lead and survey their new farm lands. There are many taboos regarding the choosing of forest fallow for cultivation. For example, people will not cultivate forest fallow that has caught fire, fallow that produces wild bananas, forest in mountain passes, forest in watershed areas (described as places where green frogs incubate their eggs, and so on). While surveying, fallow will not be chosen if the person hears deer barking, a "s'pgauz" bird singing, or sees a snake crossing the path. Moreover, in the night following the survey of the fallow, it is considered a sign of bad luck to dream about forest fire or the breaking of machetes that are used to cut down trees. In contrast, dreaming about elephants or about flooding is a good sign that means the surveyed fallow land should be cultivated. The Karen have many taboos regarding the selection of forest fallow for farming because they want to choose the best fallow, and also minimize impacts on the forest and the wild life.


It reminds me of Jason's way of defining horticulture as a system that involves, at some point, moving away from the 'ground zero' of annual tillage and allowing succession to take place, even if this is limited or managed. Some kind of fallow, basically. The Karen make use of hundreds of plants and animals who move into their zones of cultivation, for food, medicine, building materials, clothing etc. As such, an appreciation of these other beings is built into their subsistence practice (and therefore into cultural practices and spiritual awareness). If they were to concentrate on rice full-time, all of that would go out the window and they would begin to view most wildlife with the extreme suspicion and hostility that's so common among western farmers.

15
Visions of the Rewilding Renaissance / Re: Feral
« on: September 11, 2014, 01:42:52 PM »
Thanks Peter,

Well he does talk about them as part of the ecosystem, just in a totally negative way. It's funny, all his talk of trophic cascades among other species detail what wonderful, beneficial relationships they are, but apparently humans are only capable of setting off negative chains of events. For example these couple of footnotes tagged on to the Theseus/Hercules quote:

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William Ripple and Blaire Van Valkenburgh caution that the populations of large herbivores are likely to have been low, as they were suppressed by predators and subject to trophic cascades, This could have made it easy for humans to have driven them to extinction.

Again, it is worth bearing the alternative hypothesis in mind: that the herbivores could have been tipped into extinction easily, as their numbers were low. If people deprived other predators of their largest prey, those predators would have been forced to kill smaller animals (as wolves in Alaska do when hunters have reduced the moose population). This might have created a powerful knock-on effect, as extinction cascaded down the food chain.

Yes George, that's the only alternative hypothesis...

Fwiw I wouldn't deny that early human migrants may have had a destructive impact on the ecology, but surely that's only half of the story - until the invasive species becomes native. It seems like Australia would be an interesting case study for that. The use of fire by the first migrants may have thrown a lot of things out of whack, but it looks like the ecology adapted pretty rapidly to the aboriginal 'firestick farming', to the point where discontinuation had the same catastrophic results as in the US. Further study needed!

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His ideas are not really that radical in my mind

No, not hugely I guess. I think it's valuable that he's managed to get this line of thinking into the mainstream though. Scrapping the Higher Level Stewardship (his main political proposal to end the insane practice of paying farmers to stop any kind of self-willed regeneration, even when they're not getting a crop from the land) would be a result, I think, if it rescued some stretches of UK upland from the endless flocks of sheep and brought back some of the trees. Baby steps...

Could you point me to some stuff on the NA megafauna please? Most of the stuff I've read is all-too eager to jump on the ecocidal interpretation. Funny how that happens.

cheers,
I

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