Thursday, July 05, 2007

Notes from Ozymandias

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
-Percy Bysshe Shelley

On that cheery note, I pass along a few links about sand, erosion, drought, water and agriculture.

Here is a fascinating article on the impact of soil loss on whole civilizations: (Thanks to Roel for most of the links)

"Michael Grunwald reports in the Washington Post that nearly half of the children under five in Lesotho are stunted physically. "Many," he says, "are too weak to walk to school.

Whether the land is in northern Syria, Lesotho, or elsewhere, the health of the people living on it cannot be separated from the health of the land itself. A large share of the world's 852 million hungry people live on land with soils worn thin by erosion."

America, btw, is losing 2 *MILLION* acres of arable land every single year to erosion and soil salinization. Studies have shown that conventionally grown produce declines in nutritional value steadily as we erode soil, so the food we're eating isn't as good as the food previous generations once ate. No wonder we eat so much of it ;-P.

Here's one about famine facing the rich world. The economist in question has just written a book on this subject, in which she notes things like the fact that the price of staples like bread and milk are rising more than twice as fast as the inflation rate (which conveniently leaves out the prices of housing, food and energy - all of which makes perfect sense, of course, since that's what, maybe 2% of your income? They do calculate the prices of basic staples like new cars, however... how helpful ;-P).

"A Welsh economist has given an apocalyptic warning that Wales and the rich West face a potentially catastrophic famine, as energy reserves run out."

Much of the US is in drought conditions this year. Here's a look:

Note how many of these areas are major agricultural regions of the US. West Virginia just declared a state of emergency, and the plains states have been called "worse than the dustbowl."

In Europe, it is so hot that "lemons are cooking on trees" on Italy. North Africa is expected to lose 2/3 of its grain crop this year.

And the UN announced that global stability is likely to be affected by expanding drought. Duh! I'm sure we'll be told that they mostly hate us because we're free, not because we have water. Although we shouldn't count on the water.

The UN also warned that climate change - including famine, desertification and drought will displace 1 billion people by 2050.

Right now, worldwide, there are 35 million refugees of various sorts - but refugeeism is going to be a huge growth industry. Maybe we can use it to fuel our economy ;-P - we need a new growth industry. I recall someone saying that every ton of carbon we release, the family in question should have to take in a Bangladeshi person. Will we be taking responsibility for the refugees we've made, or will we do what the the US did to Jews when the Nazis were willing to drive them out, rather than kill them, if only someone would take them? Will we close our borders and pretend this has nothing to do with us, while people die by the millions - or billions?

America has been making refugees faster than anyone else - until we went into Iraq and Afghanistan the numbers were falling. But, after all, we're number 1.

"The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which marked World Refugee Day on
Wednesday, June 20, says the global political climate for refugees has already become harsher.

“They used to be welcomed as people fleeing persecution, but this has been changing – certainly
since 9/11, but even before then,” said William Splinder, a UNJCR spokesman in Geneva.

“Growing xenophobia, intolerance, political manipulation by populist politicians who mix up the
issues – the whole debate on asylum and migration has been confused,” he said.

As Lyon pointed out, people fleeing threats at home and those seeking a better life could be in the
same group washing up on a Spanish beach,” but Spindler said it is vital to keep the distinction
between them to provide effective protection to those who need it.

“Whatever their motives, migrants deserve to be treated with dignity and as human beings,” he
added. “We have seen people in the Mediterranean in boats or hanging onto fishing nets for days,
while states discuss who should rescue them.”

As Lyon pointed out, “Before sectarian violence exploded in Iraq last year, global refugee numbers
had been shrinking. The Taliban’s overthrow in Afghanistan, along with peace deals in trouble spots
like Congo, Liberia, Angola and southern Sudan had allowed million to return home.”"

Finally, NoImpactman has a good article about the environmental implications of bottled water. In the comments, one poster wisely suggested ways for cities and towns to start treating local water as a real commons, a public right - by adding more public water fountains. I added to that an idea that has been a passion of mine for a long time - add manual pump (or windmill or solar direct pumped) wells in public spaces. That way, if the power goes out or some major crisis ensues, none of us will have to watch our loved ones die from dehydration or drinking contaminated water, while we wait for relief that isn't coming - or not soon. I strongly encourage people to try and get non-grid powered wells and pumps going in their public parks, schools, etc... Water should be a commons and a right.

Here's the link:

Oh, and last and probably least, if you are interested, my interview on _The Reality Report_ is up on Global Public Media, here:



Christina said...

Some parts of the world are drying out and eroding away... and northern Europe is drowning in rain, rain, and more rain. It is EXACTLY what the climate experts have predicted, isn't it? Very sad...

in rainy, cold SW Sweden, worried about my too-wet garden, amongst other things.

bornfamous said...

Wonderful interview, and loads of food for thought--pardon the pun! I have a question. Given the extreme drought here in Southern California, as well as my lack of financial ability to move to a more hospitable food-growing climate, what actions do you recommend? I want to help my family prepare but they think I'm just eccentric.

I live in an apartment and can only grow limited food on my blazing hot balcony in summer, but I just realized that I still have three good growing seasons left -- no such thing as frost here -- so I plan to start some seeds soon. I buy most of my produce at a farmer's market, but I've been thinking that it would be smart to subscribe to a CSA now, before food shortages at the supermarkets overwhelm local farmers with demand. There are already waiting lists at some CSA's here, so I'm thinking of this as insurance.

Am I overreacting?

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I have to interject here: you could grow loads of stuff on that balcony if you give it a try. Twice in my life, I've lived in small apartments. The first time, an efficiency with no balcony. I grew herbs on my sill and tomatoes in pots outside. People left them alone.

Do you have a yard around your apartment? Maybe you could ask the landlord about tilling up a spot for a garden. It's worth asking about. I've done this and had success.

Don't worry about your family thinking you're eccentric. I've been getting that for a few years now, but I don't press the issues much and they leave me alone. When people ask me about my food growing frenzies, I explain my preferences for homegrown food and my distaste for chemicals and additives. I don't even have to go into subjects like peak oil and climate change because people catch my drift beforehand. If I have produce to share, I give family/neighbors some samples and tend to get compliments.

Now that everyone knows about my gardening and food preservation hobbies, they bring it up in conversation. My parents-in-law planted some vegetables for the first time in maybe 20 years. When we visit each other, we check out the plants and talk gardening. It's pretty cool. My stepdaughter informed me that she and her boyfriend planted eight cherry tomato plants (oh boy!) this spring. She was pretty proud of herself. You may find that your relatives will start doing this too, if you get passionate about your activities. Did Gandhi say this? I think it was, "Be the change you want to see."


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