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Flaying the outfield - The Ex-Communicator

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November 8th, 2009

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11:33 am - Flaying the outfield
A year or so ago I read Collapse by Jared Diamond. In that book he compares examples of sustainable and unsustainable societies. An example of an unsustainable society is the Viking settlement in Greenland. A key term in that book is 'mining'. He calls it mining if a culture is just stripping out an unreplenished resource. For instance the Vikings stripped the peat from southern Greenland, much faster than it could be replaced (they called it 'flaying the outfield'). Then it was all gone and they died.

The first section of the book is about modern Montana. I found it a bit less interesting than the rest so I skimmed it. However I remember him saying that capitalism has been in Montana much less time (about a quarter of the time) that the Vikings were in Greenland. And we consider Greenland a failed experiment. That comes to mind a lot when we read these National Geographic articles and see the pictures of the prairies being abandoned again.

This is the place where assumptions about the land proved to be wrong. The homesteaders believed rain followed the plough. In the grasslands of western Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, they learned better. And so for almost a century we’ve watched stranded towns and houses fall one by one like autumn leaves in the chill of October.

What is so tragic is that this land only fell to the plough because of the systematic destruction of the existing ecology. Millions of buffalo were left to rot. At the end of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, this is the most traumatic page in a book of misery and devastation. The prairie wolves gorge on the corpses and then starve to death. I'm wondering if the world is our outfield, and we are flaying it. Genocide slavery and destruction brought capitalism to the land, and I don't think we can hold onto it.

Though sometimes I think this is just me. I have heard it said 'as people grow old they project their own physical decline onto their culture'. And so I think perhaps it is my own mortality I sense approaching me. In this article George Monbiot says the opposite, that older people such as Clive James reject the truth about climate change, because it reminds them of their own mortality. I feel the opposite.

(28 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:November 16th, 2009 05:52 pm (UTC)
I'm not a professional climatologist. I make no portion of my income from climate science.

I have no professional career in this area to lose.

I merely have the education and interest to learn what is happening.

What I have to lose is a habitable world for my grandchildren.
[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2009 01:39 am (UTC)
I'm sure we're all keen to have a habitable world, but there are many problems that need to be dealt with. We can't afford to throw away zillions of dollars on climate change unless we're sure it really is caused by human agency rather than just being a normal temporary fluctuation. That money could solve other more pressing problems. We can't afford to act on emotions, to go on an OMG We're All Doomed panic. If we did that every time the environmentalists came up with a scare campaign we'd never get around to tackling any other problems. It concerns me that the Left has become so obsessed with climate change that other priorities are being ignored. It also concerns me that the whole Green thing has become a big money-spinner, a huge marketing exercise. So I remain deeply sceptical!
[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2009 07:57 am (UTC)
We can't afford to throw away zillions of dollars on climate change unless we're sure it really is caused by human agency rather than just being a normal temporary fluctuation

We ARE sure. Temporary fluctuations are caused by things like sunspot cycles, wobbles in the Earth's rotation and fluctuations in the jet stream. Each of those has been factored in (it always amazes me that people can believe that anyone who knows anything about climate science would forget them). What is left after all that is accounted for is a large ongoing increase in temperature, which correlates closely to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. This isn't surprising as CO2 in the atmosphere was already known to trap heat.

IF you want one with really easy science, look up ocean acidification - as far as I'm aware, even the climate change deniers don't argue with that one. CO2 dissolves in water to make carbonic acid. Carbonic acid is damaging to reefs (which dissolve easily) and marine life. The oceans are getting more acidic - not at a level that will hurt you if you go swimming, but at a level that will threaten world fish stocks.

You keep saying we shouldn't act on emotions, but you're totally unwilling to go and check the data for yourself. Surely, you're acting on emotion yourself?
[User Picture]
Date:November 17th, 2009 08:55 am (UTC)
I think what's puzzling me most is what you think my motive is.

I'm someone who has done the science (starting back when climate change was not established as a fact, so I've seen the gradual development and the slow accumulation of facts.) (and it's interesting to realise just how much of the data comes from archaeology, historians, marine scientists, Arctic explorers, oceanographers, astronomers, and other specialities, not just physicists, biologists and chemists)

I don't make money in any way from talking about climate change - when I graduated, I went to work in telecomms and then became a housewife when the kids came along, doing an occasional bit of editing and math tuition along the way.

I'm pretty much in the centre politically (I've never voted Labour).

If all people talking about climate change are doing it because they're strong left-wing or making money out of it, then, falling into neither camp, what is my motive for lying to you?

As I've studied environmental science, I clearly can't be backing the climate change lobby because I'm just going along with the herd - therefore, I must have a motive for lying to you.

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