We are like day flies who don’t live long enough to know there is a night time. Such long spaces — usually centuries — exist between catastrophes, even those that wipe out a third or a half of all humans, that we forget about them. And I mean modern humans rather than the disappeared hominins we can find in genetic traces. Only until we began to write did we begin to record them. Only recently have been able to video-tape them for the news. Now the images invade our eyes.
This is a tough and rather abstract post, but we can start off with an intensely dramatic series. “COBRA” is a UK film presented on PBS in a “Passport” series. If you can’t get to the actual series, a story meant to explore the consequences of a danger we didn’t know we had, you can read an outline of the plot here:
We don’t know whether this catastrophic outburst of radiation from the sun has ever happened before or what effects it had then because we’ve only just found out that such a happening could exist. By now we’ve webbed the world in electronics that could be fried. We’re vulnerable.
Prominent among the dangers is that of transformers which are everywhere because they control the power of electricity, hyping it enough to travel on high tension lines and taming it enough to be used by settlements. Each is insulated with oil, potentially forming a bomb. That’s why each is fenced and usually situated outside of settlements as much as possible. I did a lot of reading when one of the main transformers that fed electricity to Valier burned and took a long time to replace. They are vivid symbols of modern vulnerability, all around us until we don’t notice them, until the invisible and barely predictable flares from solar storms could set off those bombs. Very high potential for sensational events.
On a much less exciting level, Critical Medical Anthropology is the title for a “box” to conveniently talk about the cross-discipline interactions of “the macro-level of social structure, the meso-level of social organization, and the micro-level of individual experience and health.” This is more than theory. The link is to the timely example of the Covid 19 virus.
I re-posted a blog post from years ago so you’d be reminded of Merrill Singer, who helped form CMA and named “syndemics”, which are bigger than pandemics and include the environment, sociology, psychology, history — all the things that converge to form a perfect storm. His name is so pretty that writers think he’s a girl, but in fact, he’s an Emeritus Professor with a big belly, a beard, glasses, and a very big heart. He began in epidemiology in Hartford, Connecticut, because there were so many Haitians there. Haitians were early victims of HIV and unknowingly spread it because they were so poor they sold their blood which was packaged and resold around the world.
Singer realized the global scope of these forces, the impact of poverty and stigma, the desperate need for food, and the shortcomings of governance — but he did not include the Sun’s outbursts in his thinking. Nevertheless, he was a key visionary, if not so charismatic. His TEDx talk is at:
http://tedxuconn.com/2015-2/2015-speakers/merrill-singer/ “Deconstructing the World as we know it.”
The next expert I’m following is Jon Rockham who is concerned about what barriers or limits — guard rails — keep the planet habitable for humans. (I apologize that this link is so long, but I’m finding it’s more dependable if things go wrong. There are people interested in sabotaging this outlook.)
The article is called “Planetary boundaries and earth system governance: Exploring the links” by Frank Biermann. If you lose the link, it shows up on Google. Biermann also has YouTubes. This link is to a short one, but there is also a two hour lecture. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e67mpyL5JfE
The idea is that 9 boundaries have been identified so far (they are controversial) and three thresholds have already been crossed. The nine are:
The Nitrogen Cycle
The Phosphorous Cycle
Stratospheric Ozone Depletion
Global Freshwater Use
Atmospheric Aerosol Loading
Maybe plastic is included in that last, along with pesticides and herbicides. The first three, climate change, biodiversity and the nitrogen cycle, are thought to be over the limit already. It will take time to even understand each of these nine.
“Earth System Governance” is an aspirational goal. Today there are only gestures and a lot of talk. The terms are undefined, the needs are unfelt. Even something as obvious as the polar ice caps melting so that polar bears are starving doesn’t capture as much attention as the latest pop celebrities. To their credit, those folks often do pick up the need for awareness and publicize it.
We might lose hope and just fall into darkness except for a new education concept, Transformative Education. Previously understood as a tool to enforce conformity, even in college grad students, and though it seems like there’s a new ed theory every week, this approach is different. It specifically addresses these terrifying and complex earth governance issues. Content is not as important as process, method.
“Seeking to address that problem, we call for subversive learning interrogating four key climate change drivers:
We also call for restorative learning in three important areas:
restoring nature intimacy,
confronting despair, and
reclaiming the good life.
I was more than jubilant that an essay showed up on Aeon today that reiterated this approach with history and facts included the American indigenous people. I recommend this article.
After briefly noting the sequence of “ice ages” and climate changes that were recorded in Europe and how the Dutch in particular adapted to them, the writers turn to the Americas where the tribes, light-footed and adaptable, changed their ways of finding food (leaving crops to take up hunting) or changing both the size and networking of their groups. It wasn’t all climate change alone. “Wabanaki raiders used an indigenous technology, the snowshoe, to outmanoeuvre English soldiers. And in the American Southwest, Mojave peoples learned how to store and transport food as effectively as any Dutch merchant.”
“Like the Dutch Republic, the vast Comanche polity surged to prominence across the 16th century”. The Great Plains seems both to have benefitted from and adapted to 16th century cool wet weather that called the vast bison herds to graze on abundant grass.
Using a Bioneer approach to history through ecology gives us energy and ideas for a transformed future based on ingenuity. This seems to me most obviously to be a special charge to the tribal colleges that grace the reservations. Not assimilation, but transformation, powered by the achievements that the indigenous tribes made before reservations were invented and who will make more after reservations are out-moded, because they are defined demographics who can be unified into an arrow to pierce the dark.
Much more in the future as I use this trail as a guide.