02 August 2010

Apocalyptica: The Great Bay

The Great Bay: Chronicles of the Collapse, by Dale Pendell, is the perfect light post-apocalyptic novel for summer beach reading.  No, it's dead serious, beginning with the radical culling of the US population to 1/80th of its present size through bio-engineered plagues, followed by natural plagues, followed by famine.  After that, though, things lighten up -- it's more inspiring than depressing.  

The Great Bay is structured as a series of dispatches in different media: news reports, scholarly journals, interviews, third-person omniscent narration, private diaries.  It covers a multitude of people and situations, beginning with the early days of the collapse, through a few generations of scavenging and "making do," toward an unwinding of the very idea of Civilization.  

It says something about Pendell's view of society that the first example of a successful, humanistic, post-Collapse society is a resurrected biker gang that combines outlaw and family values and pretty much works. The timescale here is so broad that individual characters come and go, yet each is treated with compassion.  I was comforted by the view across centuries, which puts the anguish of our current age in perspective as but one moment in the long, long story of Gaia. 

Pendell's implicit critique of the very idea of civilization, and our notions of Progress and cultural evolution, challenges some of my long-held beliefs.  I've been very invested in the spiral dynamics model and the idea that societies do evolve toward higher or more inclusive value systems.  In The Great Bay, civilization simply unwinds, and the lives of the hunter-gatherers at the end of the Anthropocene are as meaning-full as those of the dazed survivors of our own time. 

Buy the Great Bay righ now from your local bookseller - it's a landmark in the literature of Collapse. 

12 July 2010

Apocalyptica: Little, Big

I've been collecting and reading books on the coming collapse (aka the Long Emergency, end of Civilization, Transapocalypse, or XVI = The Tower).  Most of these are nonfiction and fairly obvious, but send a note if you want titles.  More surprising are fiction and occult titles that address the same issues. 

Little, Big, or The Fairies Parliament is a long fantasy novel by John Crowley published in 1981.  My feeling on reading it is along the lines of : Where have you been all my life?  It's amazing that I missed it, but wonderful because there's so much more to ready by this author.   Little, Big is a sort of family epic focused on an extended family that traffics with Faery.  It's located in a space similar to upstate New York and NYC and covers approximately the 20th Century.  The plot is slow and meditative, with much interior rumination by the characters, and conversations often full of pauses and omitted information. 

The latter part of the action takes place in a nation that is falling apart, under the sway of an incompetent dictator, a lost medieval Emperor who presides over a collapsing economy, communication grid, and energy systems.  It has nothing to do with the Collapse we now face, but the specific details of life under the Lecturer Eigenblick are all too relevant, like the block of formerly-elegant New York townhouses converted to a small farm , with the facades and front rooms of the buildings encircling the crop rows, and goats housed in the former garden apartments.  A beautiful, transporting book.

Garden Update

This blog was meant to be all about bees and the garden and happy stuff like that, but that line of thought has been a bit derailed by the ongoing Disaster of Macondo and my growing sense that the collapse of civilization is no longer merely optional but is definitely on the menu.

The garden is doing fine, now that we've had some proper sun and heat.  We are eating lovely peas which I can hardly keep up with harvesting, the zucchinni are making their little namesakes, and some of the broccoli looks quite respectable.  Half the tomatoes have the curl-leaf thing going, which doesn't seem to kill them but does slow them down.  Something dreadful happened to a pile of compost I made last year and it ended up dry and not very broken down, and full of bugs.  I foolishly piled it on the bed anyway, and now the beans are tortured by ants which nibble on their leaves.  Or something.

This organic gardening is No Joke.  Children, don't fall asleep during compost class; you'll be needing that information.

The poppies and pea flower are looking especially fabulous in various shades of purple and red.  I am a fool for poppies and let them grow in the beds even where they fight with vegetables -- the rainbow chard is over shadowed by a crowd of poppies about the bloom -- apparently I prefer the poppies.

30 May 2010

Rain in Paradise and a National Day of Mourning

Here in paradise -- our little green island in Puget Sound where the giant corporation has so far NOT been able to build the giant industrial dock to haul away the gravel -- things are okay.  We have hardly seen the sun, and our high temperature for May is about 56 degrees, but the trees are green.  We opened up our old hive (Beatrice) to see if the new queen we got 3 weeks ago had finally got out of her cage and she had... So she's up near the top of the hive where the bees are really active.  

I've been obsessed with the oil spill for a month. Posting the poem was interesting.  My old poetry teacher let me know it needs a lot more work and he's right, and yet a lot of people responded to the ranting version I posted. Sometimes a rant seems like the right form.

But if the oil is going to keep erupting from the sea floor all summer -- which seems horribly likely -- there's plenty of time to work on poetics.  There's time to organize protests, boycotts, and poetry readings.  A lot of folks seem to be using this as an opportunity to vent their rage, often well justified rage, at corporate power, oligarchy, and poor leadership.  Many demand more anger, from the citizenry, from the president, from the Congress. 

And yeah, it makes sense that people are angry.  If that means, let's change the law so BP is liable for $10 or $50 Billion in damages, let's do it.  Let's bring criminal charges against those responsible, Svanberg and Hayward and the corporate officers and the "company man" who needed the drilling to go faster and anyone else involved, and anyone who falsified records, ignored safety regulations, failed to perform oversight.  Send them to an especially uncomfortable penitentiary in the deep South, with no AC and really bad food.

But often people get angry because it's less painful than grieving.  And anger is a much more socially acceptable emotion than grief, especially for men.  My own feeling is much more like grief.  I don't so much want to hear public official expressing anger as to hear them grieving.  Rep. Charlie Melancon wept giving testimony in congress last week.  It was sad to me that he was working so hard not to give in to it.  Tears are appropriate.  I'd like to see all of Congress weeping together in their chambers.

Demonstrations are terrific.  Calls for prosecution; for sure. Sign those petitions, boycott BP and their associates.  But I want a national day of mourning for the Gulf of Mexico, all the creatures and all the land and all the people who won't survive or will have their lives devastated by this.  We'd not shop, not drive, not burn the lights, not spend a nickel.  Walk around your neighborhood.  Talk about what this means.  Talk about the reality of Peak Oil -- we haven't run out of oil, but the oil we get comes at a higher and higher cost.  Look at pictures of pelicans and manatees and dolpins and bluefin tuna and think about a planet without them.  Eat fruits and vegetables that grew near where you live. Drink tap water.  Weep with your friends.  Read to your kids.  Plant something beautiful in your yard or the vacant lot down the block.

There are some good pictures of today's protest in New Orleans up at the NOLA web site:

Looks like it's raining down there too.

21 May 2010

Poem in Response to Gulf Oil Spill

To the Mother of Waters, To Whom We May No Longer Pray

Mother of Waters
we abuse you.
Here comes the Deluge we were warned of,
the blasted tower, the great Sacrifice.

Mother of Waters,
grave of the slaves
and of those who would not be enslaved
long home, resting place
heart’s ease to the troubled mind;

Mother of waters
speaker of Creole, French, Spanish, English,
Native languages, Native languages lost
African languages rooted now in the New World;

Our Lady of Purification
Star of the Sea
La Siréne,
Dolphin Woman,
we have turned our backs on you.

Mother of Waters, your children are dying
Ridley’s sea turtle
loggerhead sea turtle
green sea turtle
sperm whales, sei whales

Mother of Birds, how many hatch this spring
to suffocate or starve, abandoned by starving parents
piping plover
least tern

Suffocating in the oil we drill
starving from the oil we burn
dying in the oil we combust to carbon dioxide
to heat the planet
acidify the oceans
turn the living garden into a greenhouse
where creatures gasp for air.

We can’t live without burning it
for light for heat for medicine for driving to work
we can’t live without burning it
for television and Xboxes and cell phones and roller coasters
to kill our time.

So we kill phytoplankton
the bottom of the food web
those tiny, insignificant beings
upon whom everything depends.

We kill the oysters we love on the half-shell
jumbo shrimp
the bluefin tuna for our sushi
the crabs on the table
the crabs at the bottom of the bay
that eat the remains of the dead.

We have killed the bayou the bay
the coral reefs, sea-grass beds, Elmer’s Island,
Grande Isle, Plaquemines Parish, the Florida Keys.

Mother of Waters, Madame La Lune,
we did it ourselves.
we can’t ask you to save us
from our insatiable hunger
our mainline addiction worse than cocaine or sugar,
our thirst for novelty, our hunger for speed.

So we kill the gentle manatees, with pups at the nipple
blue whales, greatest of all mammals
fin whales
fearsome sharks, the terrible swordfish,
as we kill the roseate spoonbills
wood storks

As the shore goes, so goes the culture.
We are killing the soft voices of Creole,
music of New Orleans,
defiant joy of the second line,
the horns and the beads, the feather head-dresses
of the Mardi Gras Crewes.

Eleven died in the explosion.
Thousands more will go down:
the fishermen lose their boats
the families lose their houses
men lose themselves in beer and whiskey
children lose their families
women lose their living and their hopes
there’s no more fish in the sea
you can’t give those boats away…

Tonight at the table there is no red snapper;
nobody comes to look at the sea tonight.

Someone hands out small checks
someone checks the map for the next place to drill
a family fills the tank with gas to drive inland, away from the sea.

Mother of Waters
oh Gran Bois, Grandmother of the Sacred Forest
we can’t even learn wisdom from this catastrophe
like children playing with matches
who burn down the house
we don’t even know we did it to ourselves.

So we bury them under the sand
with diesel bulldozers
the bodies of herons
of gannets
of rails
of ducks
of osprey
of sand pipers
the brown pelican who dove straight into the water
and came up choking.

In the bars of Louisiana tonight
someone carries sweating bottles of beer to the table
for the workers who fought the oil all day.
Someone lights a candle in the cathedral in New Orleans and mumbles a prayer
someone lays a blue cloth on the altar, sacrifices a fresh egg and seven tears
someone lies on the floor to listen to the surf
that smells of salt and oil.

Out in the shallows the crabs are dying
in the marsh the frogs and crickets die
the birds die, whales die
the fishing boats come back from laying containment booms
hulls stained black
the shrimpers have collected the last shrimp from the beds
their fingers stick together with oil.

Mother of Waters, Mother of Storms,
Lady Oya of the torn curtains, Grandmother Hurricane,
we are still not wise enough to listen
to the voices of the dead,
the voices of the ancestors
the voices of the sea.

We can’t hear the waves
telling us what we sacrificed
on the altar of our sickness
our altar of capital.

We would rather die than give up the oil.
We would rather burn down our house.
We would rather kill every living thing.
We would rather plow the bodies of brown pelicans under the sand.
We would see the manatees rotting in the now-tropical sun
the sweet green fields of the South turn to desert
the great Amazon turning to smoke
the canyon on fire, the last glacier melted
the ocean glutted with plastic, gray with oil
the children picking through garbage on bare asphalt.

This is the choice we have made
Star of the Sea
Aphrodite, wave-born
we make it every single day.

Who can we pray to now?
As your children go down silently
through thousands of feet
of oiled ocean water.

Plastic bags blow in the streets of Seattle,
plastic circles in the great Pacific garbage gyre. 

Mother of Waters
what would it take for us to stand mourning on the beaches
of Louisiana, of Mississippi, of Alabama,
of Mexico, of Texas
the white sand beaches of Florida
the Outer Banks of the Carolinas
on the shores of Puget Sound,
Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound, San Francisco Bay
on the banks of the Potomac
on the shores of the Thames
on the banks of the Seine
all along the Yellow River
and say
No more oil.

How many tears will we shed
How many die in the explosions
How many dead in the waters
How many families lose their homes
How many beaches poisoned
How many billions in quarterly profits
How many forests on fire
How many crops devoured by insects
How many climate refugees on the move
How many springs infiltrated by salt
How many glaciers melted
How many more drilling rigs
How many more cars
How many more entertainment systems
How many more jet flights to see what’s left of the world --

Before we stand together on the ruined beaches
trying to catch our breaths in the oil-tainted air
children weeping
everyone hungry
bones of the dead birds scattered in thick waters
no one in the deep to hear us
no answering voice comes back to us
before we say it --

Mother of Oceans
when will we say it?
No more oil
No more oil
No more oil.

02 May 2010

Gulf Oil Leak

All week it's been growing. First they said 42,000 gallons a day.  Then they said 5,000 BARRELS a day -- which means about 210,000 gallons.  A report from NOAA, leaked, said that this could increase by an order of magnitude, if the leaking oil pipeline ruptures just a little bit more -- that would be, um, 50,000 barrels a day?  2,100,000 gallons a day -- an Exxon Valdez every six days.
The Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig, 50 miles off the coastal wetlands of Louisiana, exploded on April 22, killing 11 people.  In future days we might refer to this as the "Earth Day Oil Disaster." The oil is now spreading into those wetlands.  The satellite photographs show a whirlpool like a distant galaxy of oil on the water.

It's breeding season for the brown pelicans, reddish egrets, mottled ducks, and royal terns, all threatened species that raise their young on those barrier reefs, islands, low-lying wetlands.  They're already crowded -- the wetlands and reefs have been disappearing rapidly. They're already stressed, threatened, diminished.

Last night I told Bob I thought it would be 42 days before the oil was capped; he says 90 days. [Later clarified: he said it would STILL BE FLOWING in 90 days.] I keep trolling the internet for something more -- a meaningful commentary, an in-depth report -- and all I find are the neutral work of reporters describing the grim mood in the coastal towns, photographs of the original explosion and the doomed birds, diagrams of the damaged well and possible strategies for capping or plugging or diverting it.  And reader comments, by the thousands, most of them observing the conventions of RED versus BLUE skits -- a polarized set of insults even more reductionist than the old conservative versus liberal "debates."

What else can we do but worry, type insults to our perceived political enemies, and curse the oil industry?

I envision walking across the country to New Orleans, dressed in black, and beating very slowly on a drum with a brown pelican painted on it.  I see baskets of oil-soaked crabs and oysters and dead birds delivered to the doorsteps of BP executives and dumped on top of the Sunday papers.  Let's have a car-free day on the 22nd of each month for the next year.  Let's boycott BP and send them personal letters scrawled by hand on pieces of paper torn from children's copy books.  Let's all wear black every day until the well is capped. Let's all send five bucks to Louisiana Audubon.  Let's demonstrate at our local BP stations.

What do we need to do as a nation? We need to make a commitment to carbon-free energy sources as serious as the commitment we made to World War II: every able-bodied adult participates, every industry has something to do, every aspect of daily life changes. We need to amend the Constitution to forbid corporate personhood. We need to take apart the oil industry.  We need to do everything to conserve, everything to transition our energy sources, everything to bring manufacturing and food production closer to home.  We need to consume less and get a lot more mileage out of every kilowatt, every calorie, every gallon of oil.

The oil flowing out of that well today is going to be in the coastal wetlands of Louisiana this week; on the East Coast of Florida in June; entering Chesapeake Bay in July.  I fear we're going to loose some species from this. Others will go from hanging on to barely surviving. The fishing industry is going to take a several-year hit; some shellfish and fishing areas may never recover.  The oil is on its way home to Washington DC,  home to New York, home to the coast of Britain.

If this doesn't wake us up, what will?

27 April 2010

Disasters, prophecies, and spring flowers

Since the New Year, how many earthquakes?  Haiti, western China or is that Tibet, Chile, Indonesia, Illinois, Oklahoma...  (There's a good list at earthquake. usgs.gov.)  Storms and floods.  The explosion and sinking of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, now leaking 42,000 gallons a day, spreading over the surface of the ocean.  Mine disaster in West Virginia; 29 dead at the hands of Massey Energy and our collective addiction to coal fired power. Upcoming for this summer; a plague of grasshoppers (per High Country News), plagues of wildfires (per everyone).

I keep thinking about Thomas Banyaca of the Hopi Nation, who used to come around Olympia in the 1980s talking about the Hopi Prophecies.  You can look them up.  Tales of ancient prophecies (of doom, of resurrection, of help from a world beyond, of the chosen people) have been part of American culture for a long time.  We love thinking we are the chosen people, either chosen for a great destiny or chosen for front-row seats at the Apocalypse.  And I've been often fascinated with the stories and prophecies -- which so often feel right and true for the times we're living in -- and also skeptical.  We live in large part in a material and biological world.  I don't think that the space brothers are all that interested in our success or failure.  And while the divine spark of evolutionary fire inhabits every sentient being, our human world is mostly made by us.  I don't think we can expect rescue (by angels or aliens), or rapture, or transcendent breakthrough.

But the earth, Gaia, is screaming louder and louder.  How loud does it have to get before we wake up?  Like junkies in a burning room (this is a scene from Sid and Nancy), we stare at the flames of destruction, mesmerized by the light.  When the president announces that we need more offshore oil wells, and the next week the oil well blows up, killing 11, and sinks, spewing forth oil for days (weeks?  months?) to come, some people might take that for a sign.  A nindicator, as Riddley Walker said.  Or just a simple case of cause and effect, nothing mystical about that.

On the home front, flowers.  Rhododendron, magnolia, lilac, dogwood, plum, apple, ocean spray (I think), wood hyacinth, dandelion, red-flowering currant... there is no end to the fecundidty.  The birds are loving the birdbath/feeder, conveniently located near the apple trees and the pond, and too high for the cats to pose a danger.  We will hang the signs this week: Paradise is all around you.

We can still make this planet a paradise.  or a hell.  The preponderance of our efforts seem to be for the latter, but votes are still coming in.

15 April 2010

Living on Eaarth

Okay, I haven't even seen Bill McKibben's new book Eaarth, but I'm excited about it.  He was on Democracy Now this morning talking about the need we all face to respond to the new conditions on our planet.  This is no longer the Earth I was born on nearly 50 years ago.  It's a changed planet; we changed it.  We are still at it.  And we have to find ways to live here, to adapt our civilization, our culture, our economy, to the new reality. 

I've been depressed and horrified about the state of the environment and living beings since I was, maybe seven years old.  Even then, I worried about pollution, birds and fish and bears being killed.  Today, strangely, I feel excited - in addition to gloomy and terrified.  The situation is dire; we have to respond.  Here on my island, people are talking about the Transition Town movement.  This is a grass-roots effort to create more resiliency in our communities, to become less dependent on global and continental systems of food and energy.   To create more of what we need closer to home, to build up our own resources and capacities.  People are talking about cutting our energy needs and demanding that our state shut down its biggest coal plant.  People are talking about changing our local planning documents to reflect our needs for greater density in town, and less density in the rural areas. We're talking about how to capture more of the rainwater that falls on our island.

Someplace in the nation, people insist that climate change isn't real, or that burning oil and coal didn't cause it, or that we should wait and see before we waste money responding.  To be so alienated from reality seems like a real handicap in terms of survival - it's not very adaptive. 

Our national and state leaders -- at least the ones I helped elect --seem to be trapped in a kind of double consciousness.  One one hand, they can talk about climate change, confirm that it's a serious issue, and promise to address it boldly.  At the same time, they can't begin to acknowledge the scale of social change we face. They are unable to state that our economic fantasies of perpetual growth are incompatible with reality, with chemistry and physics.  They have not begun to talk about, much less act on, the new reality we face.  Surely they're afraid of the political consequences.  I wonder how much these leaders acknowledge in their own hearts the magnitude of the transformation we need.  I hope they do know, and that they are working on ways to help everyone wake up. 

But on this island, adapting to these changes is on our minds and in our daily conversation.  At the Farmer's Market, at the grocery store, at the bakery, on the email, in the meetings, on the ferry.  People are raising chickens and teaching each other what they learned.  Growing gardens, farming on a small scale, talking about the costs of cisterns and harvesting rainwater.  Making goat cheese.  Experimenting with small-scale grain production. Putting solar panels on the roof, or solar hot water.  Planting nut trees.  Restoring the old fruit trees.  Building cider presses. 

"Snows of a thousand winters
Melt in the sun of one summer."

(Kenneth Rexroth, "The Wheel Revolves," the Collected Shorter Poems)

26 March 2010

Restoring Paradise

We can't go back to paradise. We're not going to return to Catal Huyuk, to a hunter-gatherer society, to a pristine desert or northern forest...

Let's imagine that we're still evolving. Say we have the tools we need to get through this transition -- this transapocalypse -- as we pass through the multiple crises:
- climate change
- peak oil
- mass extinction
- population overshoot.

What do we have? Our creativity. Our big adaptive brains and hands. Millions of small farmers. The endless generosity of the plant kingdom. The fungal kingdom's ability to break down big complex molecules into simpler chemicals, elements that other living things can eat. The kindness of dogs and the compassion of whales.

The seeds I've been planting this month range from the size of a pea (hey, it's a pea! that's where peas come from! amazing!) to a speck smaller than the dot on the i in a 12-point Times computer font. Some of them I can hardly see. But the size of the seed is no indication of how big the plant can become, or how long it can live.

I just finished teaching a class called Hope in the Dark. We started with Rebecca Solnit's book of that title. On page 5, she writes:

"...hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say this because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope."