Friday, May 18, 2012

Economic Activity

For the record, I do not know, or necessarily believe, that anyone is spraying aluminum oxide into the atmosphere. I simply know that it is an idea that has been floated, to prevent global warming, and it would be a technically easy thing to do, and also inexpensive. I just really, really hope no one is stupid enough to do it. Otherwise, as my primary measure of the health of my immediate environment is my garden, my garden is thriving and so I have faith that my soil is not full of aluminum oxide.

I printed that post because I wanted a record of what I saw, and it was a convenient way to say a few other things, about conspiracy theories, and the militarization of America. That, and I've heard a few scientists this week who perhaps contributed to some paranoia.

The first scientists were talking about hydraulic fracturing, on NPR, stating pretty much categorically that there simply is no evidence that there is any harm whatever, living in the midst of fracking wells. The story was about a town called DISH, Texas, which apparently is surrounded by wells, in the immediate proximity. It's hard to feel too bad for a town that changed it's name from Clark to DISH (all caps), so they could get ten years of free cable television from Dish Network. My second thought was, if those "scientists" are going to be something other than shills for the gas industry, making such authoritative statements, they should be living in the town.

The second report I heard, came from the potato fields of northern Minnesota. Potatoes, by the way, have no business whatever being a commodity crop - see The Botany of Desire from Michael Pollan. Primarily, because no potatoes can be grown industrially, mono-crop style without applying massive amounts of poison (I grow plenty of potatoes in my yard, without poisons.) One of those poisons, specifically Chlorothalonil, has been drifting on the air into towns, where people are breathing it. From MPR:

"Chlorothalonil is the most commonly used synthetic fungicide in the United States. Chlorothalonil-containing products are sold under several names, including Bravo, Echo, and Daconil....chlorothalonil sales rank just below atrazine, a common corn herbicide." [Atrazine is in the water supply - but I haven't yet heard a scientist say that's a problem, or the bulk of Americans give a shit.]

Here's the kicker - the Dept of Agriculture does not consider a liquid evaporating and becoming airborne, to be drift. If it is a liquid, and it stays a liquid, and the farmer sprays it too close to a stream, that's considered drift. But it's not if it's airborne. Chlorothalonil is a suspected carcinogen. Now imagine the Department of Ag defense. It was exactly as shill as you might expect.

I heard a report too, recently, about asian carp. These are the monsters that leap a dozen feet out of the water when disturbed. They're in southern Minnesota now, less than two decades after they were released into the wild in Mississippi. The thing about this carp is, it's huge, and it pretty much out competes every other species of fish, until it dominates the existing ecosystem. To prevent the fish from reaching the upper Mississippi watershed, would only require the permanent closing of the St Anthony lock and dam, the first in the Army Corp of Engineers' series. To close it would either require a summary decision by the Corp, or more likely, an act of Congress. What do you suppose is the likelihood of this Congress, or any Congress, supporting that? If they don't, in a decade, the lake I grew up on, which is already infested with zebra mussels, will be infested with asian carp, and the species of fish that I grew up with will be mostly gone.

What do these things have in common? They are all the product of economic activity. We won't stop fracking, no matter what it does to the earth or people; we won't stop spraying poisons, no matter how much they drift and poison the air and water; we won't close the lock and dam, no matter what that means for the ecosystem - because to do so would put a damper on economic activity. And what does putting a damper on economic activity mean? Well, among other things, there's another report out, about an increase in cases of whooping cough. Whooping cough. As in, a hundred days of coughing so hard it can break your ribs or burst the vessels in your eyes, if it doesn't kill you. We've been keeping these bugs, and others like them at bay, precisely because economic activity has been so vibrant, for so long. When economic activity slows, bugs make a comeback.

Of course, we could recognize that economic activity as we define it is ravaging the landscape, and realize that there are limits to what the landscape can withstand, and still support people before the ecosystem breaks down and the economy with it, and those bugs rush in like barbarian hordes - and we could stop, remodel, plant gardens everywhere, re-skill and re-define the meaning of wealth and relationships, while prioritizing health and wellness, hygiene and disease control. A few people are doing that, but I don't expect it from the bulk of my fellow Minnesotans, or Americans, who are too invested in the existing order to notice what it is doing to the world, what it has done, what we are doing and have done. If anything, we are clamoring for more of it, getting fatter and more unhealthy every year. Putting off the reckoning, and so exacerbating the threat.

Every time I think about getting a job to save my house and garden, I think about that reckoning to come, and I wonder, what could I possible do, within biking distance of my house, that wouldn't be more of the same economic activity that is destroying the biosphere? All I can think to do is garden, and retro-fit houses for passive solar, but my neighbors don't think either is priority enough, to make that scale economically, for me, in the short term. I expect to be doing a lot of that, gardening, and retro-fitting houses for passive solar, post reckoning though. I rather relish the idea of a salvage economy.

Meanwhile, after three weeks straight, 8-14 hours a day remodeling this house, I am in desperate need of time in the garden. I let the soil get dangerously dry, on my caffeine, pot, beer, mead and cider influenced frenzy, the last four days before my father arrived, to see the progress I've made. I wish I could show you pictures* - I have a new bathroom, and I painted the sun room yellow, refinished the hardwoods, and designed a tile mandala at the front threshold. He, my father, had nothing good to say. He is a good man, with a kind heart, who is weary with trustee concerns, and has no eyes for this garden, or this house. He can't see what I am, he can only see what I'm not. He drives on my landscaping and steps on my raspberry vines, even after I point them out. I should have been more assertive, I guess.

I spent last night after he left in a kind of daze, watering, planting tomatoes, (five varieties - at least - red calabash, Wisconsin 55, Amish paste, sundrop, a mix of heirlooms,) weeding and just sort of renewing my love, for this garden, these plants, this place, this life.

The tomato beds are absolutely full of white pods like a small, mushy potato, with dry skin and white filaments of micorrhizae like roots. Breaking them open, they are like an oyster inside, or like an egg with a partially formed bird, though it smells unmistakably of mushroom. I would be tempted to fry one up and eat it, except they are mushrooms and it's important to be wary, and the thing emerges from the ground bright orange-red, with a rotten looking brown cap, a stinkhorn, I think they're called. So cool. It was only two years ago, that I turned the sod. 

(I feel it important to add, also, that science is important in understanding the material world, and there are good scientists everywhere, studying things like mushrooms and fish and the effects of poisons. There are also many who serve to support activities that are fundamentally hostile to the health and well-being of the earth and people, too deeply engaged in economic activity to have clarity about their motives.)

*I broke the camera. That's a' whole 'nother post.


Luciddreams said...

Damn!! Damn! Too much there to respond to. I could rave on fact I am, along with you.

I live in my garden these days. I've dug swales, or channels, or conduits for water into the clay soil with respect to building ponds. There will be three of them. I pour five gallons of rain water from a bucket into a channel and study the movement to know where I must carve.

I'm going to dig small holes to hold water in those channels at hills with cultivated plants growing.

We are surfing the same wave

William Hunter Duncan said...

Channels for ponds? I'm looking joyward to pictures on your blog, Epiphany Now.

Anonymous said...

I agree, too much to respond to here, Luciddreams, and I could spend all day reading *your* blog too, nodding and "pinging" in recognition! :)

For now, all I'll say is I find joy in creating very simple water gardens, ponds and bogs for wildlife. It need not be elaborate. Even in the big city I find frogs, toads, dragonflies, butterflies, etc. visiting. One summer day, I was privileged to witness a flock of cedar waxwings divebombing the shallow end of the pond to bathe and preen, one after another, then lifting off back into the trees to let others take a turn. And a Cooper's hawk sitting on the fence, and a blue heron looking for nonexistent fish. You build it, they will come.

William Hunter Duncan said...


Nice work!