Collapsitarian, No

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‘Wyrd goes ever as it must.’
Beowulf

After some weeks of letting the ideas in this essay settle in, and not reading (until now) any of the criticism of those ideas, it is more clear to me that I mistook Franzen’s position for something familiar, even close to home. Going back through my own postings on this platform, the mistake is understandable. We have been highlighting soft and gradual and mostly (but not all, by any means) comforting approaches to thinking about climate change.

I just revisited this post, thinking that Franzen’s position is like that word I heard 5+ years ago, but Franzen is not a collapsitarian. From my poking around, it is not clear that Paul Kingsnorth is one either. In that earlier post I linked to the About section on his website and it is still as funny ever, but now this:

Occasionally Asked Questions

Who are you?

I am 75% English, 25% Greek Cypriot, 100% European and 0% European Union. I share 96% of my genetic material with chimpanzees and 60% with bananas. I am descended from the Viking Earls of the Orkney Isles. I live with my English-Punjabi wife and our two children in the west of Ireland, where 85% of the men are descended from eastern Mediterranean farmers.

I’m a writer. I mainly write novels, poetry and essays.

Tell me about your writing

My non-fiction takes deep dives into big questions about how we might live in a world losing its cultural and ecological bearings at a rapid rate.

My fiction is mythological, otherworldly and multilayered, and is aimed at adults with at least one underworld journey under their belts…

It is worth reading in full, to see how his views may have changed in recent years, but mainly what caught my attention is the program of courses he has created, which look worthy of promotion, especially as captured in the photos (©Natasha Lythgoe) below and at the top:

The Wyrd School is a writing school unlike any other. Founded in 2018 by Paul Kingsnorth, an award-winning novelist, poet and essayist, with two decades of writing experience, we are home to unique writing courses, talks, and other events designed to bring the human and the non-human worlds back into contact, and to help you produce writing and art from the resulting sparks.

Wyrd is an old Anglo-Saxon word, often translated as fate or destiny. Continue reading

Kids Saying It The Way Kids Say Things

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Thanks to Alex Kalman for the story and to Mmuseumm for the photos:

Children Lead the Way: A Gallery of Youth-Made Climate-Strike Signs

signs-4-BIO.jpgWhen is skipping school more important than attending? When is a child’s design more effective than a professional’s? When are children more responsible than adults? On September 20th, millions of children, led by the activist Greta Thunberg, took to the streets to protest the world’s inaction on climate change. Here are some of the signs made by children who participated in the New York City march. Inspiring and confrontational, these signs provide a visual counterpoint to the individual voices of our children as they plead with the powers that be to act, and act responsibly.

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See the entire collection here.

Organikos & Fair Trade

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Fairtrade tea producers in Malawi. Photograph: Chris Terry/Fairtrade

We are weeks away from launching two shops that will carry a dozen varieties of Organikos coffee, a fair trade selection among them. Fair trade coffee has been selling well to the people who visit Costa Rica and want to support its sustainable development. We will also offer an organic coffee, which sales data show to be approximately twice as popular as fair trade among these same visitors. We are committed to these two forms of certification for reasons that should be clear from the eight years and thousands of posts on this platform.

But we also believe that all our coffee selections should be chosen by us using ethical criteria, and that the people buying these coffees care more and more about these criteria precisely because those certification programs have had an impact. The Guardian on occasion publishes an article like this one by Samanth Subramanian, who has an eye for important puzzles, that challenges our assumptions in very useful ways:

Is fair trade finished?

Fairtrade changed the way we shop. But major companies have started to abandon it and set up their own in-house imitations – threatening the very idea of fair trade.

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UK supermarket with Fairtrade bananas. Photograph: Sean Spencer/Alamy

It wasn’t very long ago that a banana was just a banana – just a curved, yellow fruit. All you knew, if you bought a bunch in 1986, was that they cost around 97p per kilo. You weren’t told if they were organic or pesticide-free. You didn’t know if they came from Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic. And you certainly weren’t invited to worry about the farmers who grew them – or if their children went to school, or whether their villages had clinics. You just picked up your bananas and walked to the next aisle for your coffee or tea or chocolate, none the wiser about where they came from either, or about the people who farmed them.

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Fairtrade cocoa farmers in Ghana, Africa. Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer

Back then, the countries that grew these commodities and many others were still known as the Third World, and the habit of not caring about their farming conditions was a legacy of their colonial past. For centuries, trade propelled the colonial project, and exploitation was its very purpose. The farmers of Asia, Africa and South America were forced to raise the crops that the empire’s companies wanted, to work the crops in abject conditions, and to part with them at ruinously low prices. In the last century, the empires melted away but the trade remained lopsided – with the imbalance now rationalised by the market, which deemed it “efficient” to pay farmers as little as possible. In the 1970s, a Ghanaian cocoa farmer often received less than 10 cents out of every dollar his beans earned on the commodities market; as a proportion of the retail price of a chocolate bar, his take was smaller still. Child labour was common. The chocolate companies prospered and their customers shopped well; the farmers stayed poor.

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Human tea bags protest outside Sainsbury’s AGM. Photograph: Andy Aitchison / Oxfam

Then, in the late 1980s, you began to hear more about these farmers, encountering their stories on television or in newspapers or even on the labels of the packages you bought. The reasons were manifold. Environmental awareness was on the rise. The prices of some commodities were crashing, placing agricultural incomes in even more acute peril than usual. There had already been small groups pushing for more equitable trade: “little do-good shops scattered in cities around Europe, selling products … bought at fair prices directly from small producers abroad”, as one pioneer described it. By the early 1990s, these disparate initiatives began to coalesce into a larger international struggle to radically reform our relationship with what we bought. Trade had long been unfair by design, but now there was a growing movement to make consumers care about that unfairness, and even to help rectify it. Continue reading

From Panama, Of Bushwick, Reducing The Impact Of Food Waste

Food waste, a problem whose partial solutions are myriad, has been on my radar since Milo posted about it. Its root seems obviously related to not properly pricing the input resources, like land, water, etc., which paradoxically makes it possible to produce an abundance sufficient to waste. But dealing with the problem at the tail end of the value chain is another partial solution so the video above is worth a few minutes of your time.

BKRotIf, when you finish that, you want to learn more, click the logo to the left. And if you live in Brooklyn you might want to participate in some manner.

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Home Composting.  Rabbit Roots is a home food scraps pick up service. For a monthly rate our bikers will collect straight from your door to our compost site.

If you live nearby, get more information about how to subscribe to their home composting program by clicking here. Sandy and her operation tell me that waiting for someone else to solve the collective action problem is wasted time. David Owen brought her and it to my attention in this short profile:

…BK ROT was founded, in 2013, by Sandy Nurse. She was born in Panama, in 1984—both her parents were in the U.S. Navy—and grew up mainly there and in South Korea and Japan. She studied international affairs at the New School and assumed that she was headed for a diplomatic career. But she changed her mind after working on food assistance in Haiti after the big earthquake there in 2010.

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This article appears in the print edition of the March 11, 2019, issue, with the headline “Sacred Rot.”

“I came back to New York and got really excited about urban resiliency and food sovereignty and disaster recovery,” she said recently. BK ROT was one of the results. “We have a very specific mission of environmental and social-justice values, and grassroots accountability to the neighborhood, and transparency, and giving our output, the compost, back into food-growing and soil-building operations.” BK ROT is partly a grant-supported jobs program for young people. (Ibarra and his co-workers, most of whom live in the neighborhood, earn fifteen dollars an hour.) Nurse also teaches community activism and basic construction skills, which she studied as a trainee of the New York City District Council of Carpenters.

BKRot1.jpgAt BK ROT, food waste is mixed with wood chips and sawdust, then moved, over a period of weeks, through a succession of wooden bins the size of washing machines. By the time it reaches the final bin, it’s black and bug-covered and unrecognizable as former food. Then it’s heaped into sloping, loaflike piles, called windrows. “Convection sucks in air from the bottom and pulls it to the top,” Nurse said. “That keeps the microorganisms inside the windrows healthy.” The resulting mass is eventually shovelled into a rotating cylindrical sifter that looks like something you might pull bingo numbers out of; the original version was built by a friend of Nurse’s, who found instructions on YouTube. The compost is sold in local stores and directly to individuals—“Somebody came from Staten Island yesterday and took a bunch,” Nurse said—but most of it goes to nearby urban farms and community gardens, a few of which Nurse herself helped to start.

15 Minutes Of Fame For A Good Cause

It takes the full 15 minutes of video above to fully appreciate what happened a few days ago. The soundbite 57 second version had me convinced that the senator was haughty and deserved to be schooled by these kids. But the full picture above, as often happens, provides better perspective, an attribute of little l liberalism. She was not quite the jerk I first thought.

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In an exchange that went viral, the senator from California demonstrated why climate change exemplifies an issue on which older people should listen to the young. Photograph by Mark Peterson / Redux

There was a moment in time when a political slogan about something very important became a movement with potential; and then it seemed to disappear as quickly as it had appeared. That was my first exposure to political activism, and certainly not my last. But it provided an important lesson. Use the time you have on the stage wisely. I get reminded of this constantly in the last few years. This dispatch by Bill McKibben is what I take away from the moment these kids had in the spotlight:

Urban Tree-Huggers

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Women demonstrators protest a plan to to cut down more than 14,000 trees for a redevelopment project in New Delhi in June 2018. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Yale e360’s Mumbai-based Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar:

In India’s Fast-Growing Cities, a Grassroots Effort to Save the Trees

In India’s burgeoning urban areas, residents are rallying against the widespread destruction of trees to make way for development. The recent protests highlight a global issue: densely populated megacities in the developing world, which are most in need of tree cover, often have the least.

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Thousands of trees have been cut down in Mumbai in recent years to make way for new housing, wider roads, and a $3.3 billion subway line. COURTESY OF ZORU BHATHENA

The funeral cortege was small. Six people shouldered the bier and others followed, clad in the traditional Indian white. As the group filed past the state assembly building, the armed guards did not give it a second glance. In a few minutes, however, the security forces caught on. The procession winding its way through Mumbai’s government district was not a real funeral: It was a protest. The shrouded body held aloft was not a human — it was the trunk of a tree, one of many, including grand old banyans, cut down for the construction of a $3.3 billion subway line.

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A protester hugs an old tree in Mumbai to prevent it from being cut down for a subway project. COURTESY OF ZORU BHATHENA

Mumbai’s old trees have borne the brunt of new development in the booming city, including road widening, transport projects, and housing construction. The new subway alone is destroying or damaging 5,000 trees, from hundreds of old street trees in the dense parts of the historic island city to more than 2,000 trees in a mini-forest in suburban Aarey Colony, where a rail car shed is to be built. A less visible loss lies in defunct industrial areas, where large plots with old trees and ponds are being redeveloped into residential and commercial towers. “Developers are supposed to replace the trees but no one really checks,” says Stalin D., head of local environmental group, Vanashakti. Continue reading

Books In Need, People To The Rescue

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Hundreds of volunteers formed a human chain to help move October Books to its new location in Southampton, England. Credit October Books

It is probably not accurate to say books are in need. People are in need of books. And people who have been enlightened, educated, even saved by books are the kind of people we might expect to believe that the repositories of books, libraries and bookstores for example, need all the help we can give them. In the spirit of yesterday’s post, another today related to books and volunteers and the generosity of bookish people:

A Store Had to Move Thousands of Books. So a Human Chain Was Formed.

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“We wanted something that was accessible for the whole family, for children and people who were older who wouldn’t necessarily be able to paint or move heavy pieces, to help out,” a member of the October Books collective said.

LONDON — The plea went out a few weeks ago from the bookstore in a port city in southern England: “Care to lend a hand?”

Volunteers were needed for “heavy manual work” in shifts. It was “essential” that they be able to lift and carry boxes and office supplies.

Among the supplies: thousands upon thousands of books.

The appeal from October Books, a nonprofit that began 40 years ago as a “radical” bookshop, came after a rent increase forced it from its old home in Southampton, Jess Haynes, a member of the collective and one of the few paid employees, said on Wednesday.

The shop was looking to move lock, stock and barrel about 150 meters (just under 500 feet) to a three-story building that used to house a bank. Would anybody respond to the call for help? Continue reading

Karen Washington, Food Activist

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‘When we say ‘food apartheid,’ the real conversation can begin.’
Illustration: Daniel Chang Christensen

Thanks to Anna Brones for bringing this article, and its subject, to our attention in the Guardian, as a reprint of an essay originally published in Guernica:

Food apartheid: the root of the problem with America’s groceries

Food justice activist Karen Washington wants us to move away from the term ‘food desert’, which doesn’t take into account the systemic racism permeating America’s food system

America’s sustainable food movement has been steadily growing, challenging consumers to truly consider where our food comes from, and inspiring people to farm, eat local, and rethink our approaches to food policy. But at the same time, the movement is predominantly white, and often neglects the needs and root problems of diverse communities. Continue reading

Commerce, Conscience & Conservation

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Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, with its chief executive, Rose Marcario, in the tin shed where he once forged and hammered metal. The outdoor-clothing company has mixed commerce and activism since the early 1970s. Credit Laure Joliet for The New York Times

Since the early days of this platform we have linked to stories about this company many times, and its founder in particular is in our pantheon of role models. During these seven years we have also studiously avoided linking to stories involving politics, other than highlighting activism that holds public officials accountable. This story below borders on  too much politics, but I find the company’s position not only acceptable, but as usual about this company, aspirational. Thanks to David Gelles for this story about how Patagonia has supported grass-roots environmental activists for decades and how it is suing the president in a bid to protect Bears Ears National Monument:

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Patagonia employees at the Ventura, Calif., headquarters, where there are picnic tables in the parking lot, on-site day care and easy access to the beach.CreditLaure Joliet for The New York Times

VENTURA, Calif. — The offices of Patagonia occupy a low-slung complex of stucco buildings in this sleepy beachside town in Southern California. There are solar panels and picnic tables in the parking lot, day care with a jungle gym by the main lobby and easy access to the beach, where employees surf during lunch break. It is a corporate Eden of sorts, where idealistic Californians run a privately held company that sells about $1 billion of puffy down jackets and organic cotton jeans each year.

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 7.06.08 AMBut on an unseasonably hot and windy Monday morning in early December, Patagonia headquarters were transformed into something that quickly resembled a war room. There were emergency conference calls with Washington lawyers. Court filings were prepared. Web designers remade the company’s home page.

It wasn’t a business crisis that had mobilized the company, however. It was politics. Continue reading

Indonesian Seaweed Farming

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Seaweed harvesting in Takalar, Indonesia. Photo © Tiffany Waters / The Nature Conservancy

The subject of seaweed farming, which we sometimes refer to as kelp farming, is of keen interest to us because of the relationship to conservation; our thanks to Tiffany Waters at Cool Green Science:

Seaweed Farming: A Gateway to Conservation and Empowerment

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Seaweed seedlings. Photo © Tiffany Waters / The Nature Conservancy

“What does your husband do while you’re working on the seaweed lines?”, we ask. She laughs and says in Bahasa, “He does the cooking and the cleaning.”

It’s day 6 of our field visit to Indonesia and we’re in Takalar visiting our fifth island and third seaweed farm of the trip. On the brink of the ‘extreme season,’ stifling hot is an understatement, but the light breeze from the Flores Sea provides a welcome break from the three flights and 2-hour van trip that brought us here. Continue reading

A Food Writer & The Shock Of The New

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Food has recently returned to the center of our attention, and in the outback of Belize we have had some lovely surprises. An unexpected essay, from one of the food world’s most prominent writers, gives another view altogether from the USA:

The New Foodieism

To care about food now is to care about the future of this country.

By Mark Bittman

Like many of us, I spent the winter muddling through a mental miasma, pondering the meaning of life and democracy. I did, of course, think about “food” — how it’s produced, marketed, discussed, consumed, and so on — during my self-imposed hiatus from near-constant writing, which began more than 18 months ago. Continue reading

Dams, Development & Destruction

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Munduruku people demonstrate in front of the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy, calling for the suspension of construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant. Photograph: Lunae Parracho/Reuters

Thanks to John Vidal and the Guardian for this coverage in Latin America:

The rains had been monumental throughout April 2014. By early May, the operators of the 219 MW Cachoeira Caldeirão dam being built in Brazil’s remote Amapá state knew that levels on the Araguari river were dangerously high. If some water was not released fast, the whole thing might collapse. There would be no danger to people because any run-off would be absorbed by two other dams downstream, the hydropower company thought.

But communications failed and no one warned the small town of Ferreira Gomes, nestled on the banks of the Araguari nearly 50km away. Continue reading

Letters to Young Farmers

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The reference of the title isn’t lost on us, for the “everyday act of creation”, of coaxing bounty from the soil, is a form of poetry. We applaud both the advisors and the ears on which the advice falls.

Letters to a Young Farmer is full of good counsel for the next generation from the likes of Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, and the noted novelist Barbara Kingsolver.

Dear young farmer,

Let me speak to you as a familiar, because of all the years I’ve cherished members of your tribe. Of course, I also know you’re only yourself, just as I remember the uniqueness of every intern, WWOOFer, and summer weed-puller who has spent a season or two on our family’s farm. Some preferred to work without shoes. Some were captivated by the science of soils, botany, and pest management. Some listened to their iPods, or meditated, or even sang as they hoed and weeded, while others found no music among the bean bee­tles. A few confessed to finding this work too hard, but many have gone on to manage other farms or buy places of their own. In these exceptional souls I invest my hopes….

Continue reading

Model Mad, Marcus

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[Update: this post was originally published 48 hours ago but it definitely needs further attention so please do listen to Marcus]

This book came out late last year, and ever since I started sharing links to this man’s wonders  a of couple years ago, I keep watching for more reasons to do so; he always moves me. Today, again. Below is a link to a podcast he recently recorded to promote the book above. The conversation is artful. Powerful.

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Marcus is an immigrant to the USA, so his reflections on recent policy shifts in the ultimate country of immigrants are worth a listen even if you are not a foodie. If those observations do not move you, all I can say is wow. It fits the “model mad” theme we have been linking to in recent weeks–people and organizations speaking out and creatively resisting when something is wrong; and doing so at risk of significant loss. Continue reading

Model Mad, 314

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The website itself is not exactly scintillating, but click the banner above to read the mission statement. Better yet, read Ed Yong’s scintillating explanation of how and why this organization came to be, and what it is doing:

For American science, the next four years look to be challenging. The newly inaugurated President Trump, and many of his Cabinet picks, have repeatedly cast doubt upon the reality of human-made climate change, questioned the repeatedly proven safety of vaccines. Since the inauguration, the administration has already frozen grants and contracts by the Environmental Protection Agency and gagged researchers at the US Department of Agriculture. Many scientists are asking themselves: What can I do? Continue reading

Model Mad, NPS

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Redwood national park in California. Photograph: Jeffrey Schwartz/Alamy

We like what we see of the madly determined folks risking their professional careers in the interest of the environment and social justice:

National Park Service climate change Twitter campaign spreads to other parks

A day after three climate-related tweets sent out by Badlands National Park were deleted, other park accounts have sent out tweets that appear to defy Trump

The National Park Service employees’ Twitter campaign against Donald Trump spread to other parks on Wednesday, with tweets on climate change and a reminder that Japanese Americans were forcibly interned in camps and parks during the second world war.

A day after three climate-related tweets sent out by Badlands National Park were deleted, other park accounts have sent out tweets that appear to defy Trump. One, by Redwood national park in California, notes that redwood groves are nature’s number one carbon sink, which capture greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming…

…Golden Gate national park in California said in a tweet that 2016 was the hottest year on record for the third year in a row. The tweet directed readers to a report by Nasa and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also known as Noaa…

…The tweets went beyond climate change.

Death Valley national park tweeted photos of Japanese Americans interned there during the second world war, a message that some saw as objecting to Trump’s pledge to ban Muslims from entering the country and a proposal to restrict the flow of refugees to the United States…

Read the whole story here.

Mad, Yes

0115-bks-ivorytower-blog427-v3As we approach our 8,000th post on this platform we realize that for the nearly six years we have been posting there was plenty of hopeful, helpful news related to community, collaboration and conservation–the themes we committed ourselves to at  the outset.

Times seem different now, to state the obvious. And yes we are “mad” about what is happening around us. Madly determined. It will take discipline to remain focused and find the news that fits our purpose here. But we intend to.

The point has not been to ignore the bad news, of which there has been plenty in recent years, but to share a few notices each day that highlight better news. Or possible solutions. The spirit of our intent, which has been to support “the fight” as needed but remain civil to the end, is captured well in this book review:

How to Be Civil in an Uncivil World

By

Nigerian Ex-Militants to become the next Farmers

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The Nigerian government is giving young ex-fighters the opportunity to help secure their country’s food production by providing them the resources and education to become a new generation of farmers. The new agricultural training program is not only an example of the government’s efforts to fulfill its longstanding pledge of reintegrating ex-militants into society productively, but also an example of a peaceful solution that reflects a government’s foresight of what could truly progress the welfare of its country.

In the summer of 2009, then-president of Nigeria, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, declared a general amnesty for the armed militants who had plagued the country’s oil-rich Niger Delta, the area made up of nine states in the south of the country. The region had seen a dramatic rise in attacks on oil refineries and the kidnapping of foreign workers beginning in the early 2000s. Many of the armed fighters were young men living in poverty with few job prospects, who were attempting to take by force what they felt the government owed them.

Continue reading

Connecting the Dots

In our business we often use words like synchronicity and synergy to illustrate the amazing frequency of “right time-right place” meetings and connections. In the summer of 2011 one of the original interns (and creators of this site) came to work with us in Kerala. In search of a project, we introduced him to Diwia Thomas to brainstorm a social entrepreneurship collaboration. That process led to an amazing joint venture paperbag making workshop with the Kerala Forestry Department.

The very first post I wrote on this site was about Diwia Thomas and her company Papertrails. It just so happens it was published exactly 5 years ago. It also just so happened that this morning my Facebook feed included the news that Diwia had been honored with the Unique Times’ Young Women Business Excellence Award 2016. Continue reading

Agripreneurship

A wonderful aspect of both young people and entrepreneurs is their ability to find creative solutions to apparently insoluble problems. The two overlap beautifully within the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) and the Youth Agripreneurs Project (YAP), where the goal is to pilot innovation to help rural communities world wide.

Kulisha, which is the verb ‘to feed’ in Swahili, the national language of Kenya, is a proposed project that addresses both the problem of creating a sustainable food source in Kenya and the extractive fishing methods of coastal trawlers. Aquaculture is an important food industry in East Africa, but the method of using fish meal from wild caught anchovies is destructive on all levels. Kulisha’s goal is to produce sustainable fish feed in Kenya made from black soldier fly larva.

Our idea, Kulisha, will provide a low-cost, high-quality sustainable fish feed made from black soldier fly larvae. We will sell dried insects to these rural fish farmers to replace the anchovies they are using to mix their own. In addition, we’ll produce a nutrient-rich fertilizer as a by-product from raising the insects which will be sold at a low cost to local crop farmers. It is our long term goal to formulate and sell our own feed. Continue reading