Myopia (After a Sleepless Night)

Macro/micro — we are a microcosm in a macrocosm but the micro is so much easier to grasp. The immensity of immensity is too much for us and our little hands, which, in my case are about 7 inches from wrist to the tip of the bird finger. That we might have a role in the immensity is completely beyond our comprehension. We can’t even fathom our effect on our little microcosm, our planet.

In one of the books I’ve been reading (as part of evaluating books) I learned of a “cat killer” in Australia. Why does this guy have such a raging vendetta against cats? The domestic cat has done incredible damage to the native species in Australia, and this man is out to do his part in helping some of those endangered species come back. But what 18th century ship did NOT have cats aboard to help fight rat population? The author puts forth that the cats were brought to Australia as pets, and while that’s possible, I think a lot of them were stowaways, freeloaders. The ships were a huge rendition of a human body unwittingly transporting a contagious disease to an un-protected population.

People yammer on about “But look at the big picture!” or “The devil is in the details!” or “Pay attention to the small stuff!” and I honestly don’t know how we can ever tell whether the picture we’re looking at is a big picture or “small stuff.” It happens often that the entire big picture depends on the small stuff. And the big picture? Who’s to say it’s not small stuff?

Back in the 1950s, we didn’t have garbage disposals. We had a thing called “wet garbage” and a corollary called “dry garbage.” I think some of the wet garbage went into the garden and other wet garbage went into the 10 gallon trash can with a lid that sat outside the back fence and was picked up once a week by the trash guys. These guys lifted the trash can and tossed the trash in the back of the dump truck. That’s a trash can about the size of what most of us have in our kitchen. The dry trash was burned in a backyard incinerator. We didn’t have plastic everything. Plastic was an up-and-coming product whose uses were barely exploited. Nylon was still considered to be “fake silk.”

If you think about it, this was all what we would now term “responsible recycling,” but for my parents it was just daily life. For their parents? For my mom’s family, the disposal of trash was even MORE meticulous and what we would term “responsible.” They lived on a farm. The pigs and poultry got much of the “wet garbage.”

In the 70s the incinerators were “bad” because the smoke caused air pollution. Plastics were suddenly everywhere (thank god for plastic shampoo bottles, seriously, but…) and our trash cans became immense. Trash trucks developed into enormous beetles that lifted enormous bins over their backs and emptied them into a churning abyss to break things down for an overflowing landfill. The first time I saw one of these in action I was 22.

Each little person made these changes believing them to be for the “betterment” of the world and the safety of people. These are tiny changes, microcosm level changes. Where are we now? The macrocosm (relative to us) is in trouble, serious trouble.

My point is that we just don’t have any idea at ALL what we’re doing. We go through our lives like scurrying, near-sighted moles. The values of the future are predicated on the choices we make today, and I don’t think we have any idea what those choices will mean in fifty or one-hundred years.

In micro news, I changed my voter registration this morning. This person (me) who was originally a Libertarian, then a Republican, then an Independent is now a registered Democrat. What changed my mind? The “Tweet” posted as the featured photo.

Why? Porque, en mi vida, algunos de mis mejores amigos han sido hablantes nativos de español. I was horrified to hear some of the members of Offal’s “team” describe themselves as “true Americans” because they speak only English. Apropos to the “macro” theme of today’s prompt, we don’t live in a nation. We live on a world. Y, por eso, por tantos años, por lo major parte de mi vida, he creído que necesitábamos hablar más idiomas que nuestro idioma nativo. My Spanish is far from fluent or perfect (I used Google translate to check my sentences here) but I am happy to speak with anyone who allows me to or needs me to.

Anyway reading that Tweet it suddenly hit me. I may not like the Democrats all that much, but certain of my values align with the party line much better than with whatever the fuck it is the Republicans are doing now. I want leadership that recognizes that we are part of the WORLD. I want leadership that is open to others and the idea of conscientiously attacking the problems we’ve created along the way. While it might have been smarter to continue using incinerators (with filters to capture pollutants on the chimneys as we use on fireplaces), at least those people’s hearts were in the right place. BTW, Switzerland gets a large percentage of its electrical power from burning trash.

Another Long Blog Post about Climate Change, Social Movements Led by Children, Situational Deafness and a Changing World

Throughout history there have been several social movements led by children. The two that come to my mind are the Children’s Crusade of the early 13th century, and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution0s of the mid 196, both of which were disasters for the very children involved.

Having forgotten the details of the Children’s Crusade, I had to look it up. Wikipedia has the most succinct explanation; The variants of the long-standing story of the Children’s Crusade have similar themes. A boy begins to preach in either France or Germany, claims that he had been visited by Jesus, who instructed him to lead a Crusade in order to peacefully convert Muslims to Christianity. Through a series of portents and miracles he gains a following of up to 30,000 children. He leads his followers south towards the Mediterranean Sea, in the belief that the sea would part on their arrival, which would allow him and his followers to walk to Jerusalem. This does not happen. The children are sold to two merchants (Hugh the Iron and William of Posqueres), who give free passage on boats to as many of the children as are willing. The pilgrims are then either taken to Tunisia, where they are sold into slavery by the merchants or else die in a shipwreck on San Pietro Island off Sardinia during a gale.

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in the People’s Republic of China resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of educated Chinese (no one knows the exact number). Essentially, it was a movement led by Chairman Mao (ostensibly started by Chinese youth). It’s main goal was the overthrowing of the “four olds” — Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas.

Being led by children hasn’t worked out that well in history, though I understand the frustration that has led to children marching against climate change. I feel it too, all the time, every day. I’ve seen the effects in real life, the change in the climate in Southern California while I lived there, most pronounced during the time I lived in the Cuyamaca Mountains. When I moved there, September, 2003, the fields across from me were waist high green grass in which cows could hide. The field was filled with healthy oaks. That very year the second largest fire (the largest happened last year) came sweeping through those mountains. The field in subsequent years (though not destroyed by the fire) became incrementally dryer and dryer until the grass was green for only one or two months in a rainy winter. All the trees died. It was an observable shift in normal.

The temperatures rose, too, over that period. When I moved into my house, the hottest temperature during the hottest season of the year was 90 F/32 C. By the time I moved away in September of 2014, it was often 110 F/43 C by 10 am during the summer. That year there were new fires every day, most small and remote, but they were happening. All the rakes in the world won’t stop fires in those conditions.

So why does the marching of children yelling at us that “we” destroyed “their” world have such an impact? I really don’t know. No one listened to me when I yelled about this. Well, that’s not true. I was kind of a curiosity; a girl succeeding in a competitive speech event in which boys usually won. I got to give my speech to lots of civic groups in Colorado Springs.

I was 17 when I wrote this speech. That was 1969. The big issues in the world were the Viet Nam War and The Bomb. Those were not, to me, the biggest issues, but they were the most gruesome, the most scary (in the short term) the most accessible to most people, the most easily sensationalized by the news. Of course, I mistrusted the adults, too. After all, hadn’t they “allowed” all this to happen?

I was doing competitive speaking in an effort to overcome my terror of speaking in front of people (never completely succeeded in that but I never stopped trying). This speech (and my delivery of it) took second place in the state of Colorado. I lost to a speech about the Viet Nam war.

The speech begins with a little dialogue between a teacher and a student. A student has found an aster growing in a crack in the pavement and brought it to class. The teacher has an allergic reaction and doesn’t know what the flower is. (Youth is truth). Then…filled with youthful cynicism (faux sophistication):

Then, having gotten my audience’ attention, I got real (for 17)…

“The human race, that’s you, for one, and Americans in particular, are racing toward total annihilation with, at last, no exceptions made as to race, creed, gender or nationality. Man abuses the air he needs to breathe, the water he needs for sustaining his life, and he is brilliantly (as usual) devising technological advanced ways to destroy the delicate food cycle of which he is the ultimate beneficiary.

Adlai Stevenson compared Earth, our plant, to the several satellites that have, at certain intervals, circled our world. In these words he explains the necessity for preserving Earth the Beautiful (I got over love of country early):

We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil, all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only but the care, the work, and the love we give our fragile craft. (Stevenson was born in 1900)

At that time, the population of the earth was beginning to be a concern. Paul Erlich was writing articles on this topic and they would soon appear in a book, The Population Bomb. I was very affected by his argument and it entered my speech, too. It’s still a problem, but…

“As any American will agree, empty space is wasted space. With the population of the world doubling every 5 years it is illogical that even the most radical conservationist would want to you a river for anything except a source of power or would want a hunk of forest to just sit there making trees. The words of the Scottish essayist, Thomas Carlyle, bring this idea close to home:

“You won’t have any trouble in your country as long as you have few people and much land, but when you have many people and little land your trials will begin. Thomas Carlyle (Carlyle was born in 1795)

So how did I end this bit of juvenile satire on the subject that has been closest to my heart since I was eight? With a call to action that was based on individual personal responsibility.

Back in 1969 many, many of our current problems had not come into existence. Soda was sold in bottles (cans were only starting to show up) that came in cardboard cartons. Until the early 80s, food came home in paper bags. Detergent came in a cardboard box. There was no recycling partly because there wasn’t a lot to recycle. In the 1950s (and before) we had backyard incinerators. Burning in the backyard was banned and that ended (though now we have fire pits???) leading to more trash going to landfills…

But there were gravely serious problems such as Lake Erie being dead and unbreathable — and dangerous — “air” in LA, NYC and Denver. A good article about the environmental crisis in the US at the late sixties is here.

Throughout my lifetime technological development has moved faster than our understanding of the consequences. The Dead Kennedy’s masterful album, Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death (1987) is well titled and descriptive of our lives.

So, should we be led by these children? Why not? We haven’t listened to anyone else so far.

From the musical, Hair, 1967
I gave it to my junior year English teacher, Roenna Cohen, to read — then the yearbook adviser. Her comments, my response.

Shrieking 16 Year Old

Possibly because I taught late adolescents and post-adolescents for 30+ years, almost since I WAS one, or possibly because I remember so well how I was at that moment in life, I have a hard time when one of them pops off a lot of half-baked opinions from their well of passion and ignorance. I know about that. I did it all the time. I remember doing it very often, very loudly, and usually at the dinner table.

When I was trying to get over my fear of public speaking, I joined the speech club at my school. My senior year I competed in Original Oratory and took second place in the state of Colorado. My speech was about caring for what we so glibly now call “the environment.” At the very least it should be “our” environment. My speech was ten minutes long. It was well reasoned and researched. It was about what I felt then — have always felt and still feel — is the only important issue in our world today.

What my mother tried to explain to me back then and what I learned watching China attempt to develop (for the welfare of its people) is that it really is not so simple. I didn’t believe then — and I don’t believe now — that the intrinsic complexity means we should stop trying. Far from it. Every day in some news source I follow on Facebook or via my email (I like printed magazines, but…) I learn of progress being made in myriad areas.

It’s slow, but it’s progress.

In 1970, the year of the first Earth Day and the year my speech won a trophy, there was only leaded gasoline and cars got about 9 miles to the gallon. Anything else was considered impossible. By the 70s there was unleaded gas (you could choose it) and the catalytic converter — which reduced emissions — was becoming standard equipment in new cars. People resisted, but it happened. In 1970, Lake Michigan was essentially dead and you could not see the sun most days in LA. The EPA was formed and went to work.

It’s been a constant tug-o-war between assholes and conservationists (a term I like a little better than “environmentalists” though I’m doubtless splitting hairs). The expense of reversing the 1950s philosophy of progress (which I also get) was astronomical both economically and politically. We’re still fighting that (“clean coal is beautiful, they wash it before they use it”).

Technology to make changes had to be developed and the public needed to be educated (nudged, forced) to accept it. I live in a place — an impoverished rural area which is a microcosm of the efforts to transform our tools for production and agriculture — which is working hard in every area to make and use new technology. On example is that we have and use an enormous solar farm, another is the constant fighting (usually successful) against drilling for oil in all the areas surrounding my valley. Last year all of us were offered the option of choosing different percentages of our electricity from renewable energy sources. I opted for 100% and I don’t really care if that ends up costing me more.

NONE OF THIS EXISTED in 1970 when I made my speech. In the grand scheme the 50 years it’s taken to get to this point isn’t such a long time, but I also feel (wish?) it should be faster. I also wonder if faster is even possible.

Factors I didn’t understand at 18 were the cost of developing technology, the resistance of the general public to change, the difference between the options of a developed country and an under-developed country. I could not begin to understand the complexity.

Right now one of my things is bewilderment over the fact that now my supermarket offers us paper bags into which we put all the plastic shit our food is packed in. That makes NO sense to me. I’m performing an experiment with my trash hauler. I put all the frost-killed plants from my garden in a paper bag and closed the top. Then I put it in a bin that says, “All trash packed in plastic bags. No loose trash.” The landfill where the trash goes also offers recycling… Putting dog shit in a plastic back seems REALLY dumb, but…

This is just to illustrate the efforts and attempts on the scale of one little lady in Monte Vista, Colorado. Do I think I’m going to change the world this way? NO. I get it now, at 67, that the best I can do is not make things worse. When I was teaching, however, I taught critical thinking through nature writing. It was my little effort to awaken at least my students to a world bigger than their car, family, house and dreams of material prosperity. I guess it might have worked with some students. No teacher reaches everyone. I also worked in the establishment of an urban wilderness park on 5800 acres of chaparral in San Diego that was slated for development. It mattered to me, mostly for the sake of the beautiful land itself, but also for the future — so kids in 20 years (which is now) could know the indigenous landscape of their world.

I was appalled when OFFAL (Our Fearless Leader) pulled out of the Paris Accord. Yeah, the Paris Accord is little more than a gesture in the right direction, but like me choosing to get my electricity from renewable sources, it’s not NOTHING.

On the other hand, all around me is a living paradox. Until 1960, potatoes (the main crop of the San Luis Valley) were stored in very beautiful and functional adobe potato cellars which, all by themselves, without any air conditioning or other electrical climate control, kept the potatoes at EXACTLY the right temperature and humidity BECAUSE, though above ground, those potato cellars were essential big piles of dirt. Sometime in the early 60s farmers changed from these lovely, though laboriously built, structures to buildings of concrete or steel. The new buildings will need to be destroyed someday and then what? Where does all that steel and concrete go? The adobe? All by itself will return from whence it came.

The same with water. Water here in the San Luis Valley is — well, there’s nothing more important. We sit above a gigantic ancient lake, an immense aquifer, much of which is still there, but very far down. Our climate is a legitimate desert. Now the “Front Range” — an alien world comprising Denver, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Pueblo, cities, in other words — wants to “buy” our water. It’s impossible to overstate how fucked up that is.

Some aquifers are depleted. Potatoes, grain and alfalfa are heavy water users and they are the predominate crops. So what? Some farmers are switching to hemp, both industrial hemp and help for CBD oil. Hemp is a great crop because it uses comparatively little water and doesn’t deplete the soil of nutrients BUT the anti-marijuana posse are against it, unwilling to recognize the chemical difference between some intoxicating herbage and a fiber that can be made into clothing.

And, again, back in the old days the farmers had a method for ensuring water and that was the acequia. The use of acequias meant little reliance on dug wells. The moral of THIS part of the story is, “Those old-timers understood shit we’ve forgotten.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 23: Greta Thunberg speaks at the United Nations (U.N.) where world leaders are holding a summit on climate change on September 23, 2019 in New York City. While the U.S. will not be participating, China and about 70 other countries are expected to make announcements concerning climate change. The summit at the U.N. comes after a worldwide Youth Climate Strike on Friday, which saw millions of young people around the world demanding action to address the climate crisis. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

So, today on the egregious platform of Twitter I heard the vapid angry shrieking of a child. I was appalled at the reception she was getting. Where are her parents? If I could talk to that child, I would tell her, “You have not earned that podium. Go home and go back to school in your country which, be grateful, has an excellent education system. Put your skinny Asperger’s shoulder to the wheel and learn history, learn science, become aware of the challenges that face a world that’s far more complex that you can possibly know yet. Allow your frontal lobe to mature. Travel, with some humility, and see what’s going on, first hand. Learn what has been tried, what has been not, what has proven unfeasible (now but maybe not for someday), learn what is slated (hoped) for the future. Learn about progress that has been made and learn about the historic challenges to that progress. Experience the struggles of the under-developed world in achieving even the smallest benefits of technology and why people there might resist the kind of progress the world needs. Anyone can scream. Not everyone can dedicate a life to change, can accept that there are no guarantees, that your efforts might be futile or bear limited fruit, they might not be in the shape you imagine, and work anyway. It’s not MY job to preserve the world for YOU. What the fuck do you think I (and others) have been doing for the last fucking 50 years? The world is as much yours as mine. Pick up that baton, accept the challenge and keep going.”

The last time angry youth took over anywhere we had the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Good times, good times.