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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.

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[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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