All posts by bodhik

I do use words sometimes.

Que Sera Sera

“The Tamarisk Hunter” is a story about a post-apocalyptic world by Paolo Bacigalupi in which global warming has continued to the point that water has become scarce and is sequestered by the wealthy as the poor are weeded out of the population. Lolo, a water-reclaimer of sorts, siphons water from California’s “straw,” a water conservation and containment contraption for wealthy citizens to live well in the world. The story is not necessarily drastic or flashy, and does not have an angery or passionate tone, as would many other works that deal in climate change, instead, it is slow, dull, and long-winded in description, with a tone of helplessness. Even in trying to survive in this time it becomes clear that Lolo will not last for long, and neither will many others. It is hard to shake the feeling that something along these lines will take the human race from a glorious mountain of achievement to a pitfall of regression and forced steampunk misery.

Humanity is incredibly ingenious, however, it is quite slow to act on things that do not directly have to deal in the lives of its constituents. What doesn’t come through emotion and persuasion to the gain of some other, albeit an ideal of many or few, moves at a snails pace. Even worse is the fact that, although there are ideas of value and virtue in society, even with constant discourse there is little hope of building a strong compulsion to conquer climate change. However, without hope of any kind there would be no action towards resolution of the issue. If movement can be expectedly slow in this regard, then the choice to overcome climate change may be relatively abandoned as a motivator, other motivators must become valid. Governmental reform may have to take place. Governments tend to move an idea either quickly with harsh consequences in the case of monarchy and dictatorship, or slowly with slow progress. With climate change moving quickly would work, however there would most likely be horrific miss allocation of resources and action, where much of society would face monumental social challenges; moving slowly on the other hand is a stacked deck, it is much harder to get progress made, yet the more time that is spent progressing in some ways, the more drastic the situation can get, which could lead to a scenario similar to “The Tamarisk Hunter.” There will more than likely have to be a middle ground, a way that governments can use great power quickly, with some form of authority and healing from the mistakes that will inevitably follow, and move slowly towards goals that can be dragged to a conclusion without incident. Furthermore, with a global society, governments will most likely take different approaches, some will fall and others will succeed, it is a test in darwinian evolution on a social stage, and we’re currently in the second act.

Three steps backwards, one step forward (don’t read this piece its boring and convoluted)

Much of what humanity has accomplished in recent years can seem baffling and backwards at the same time. Computers today are more capable than the instruments which sent humans to the moon, fitting in your pocket just because. However, what has been slower to accelerate in improvement is social understanding and coherence of the implications of the generation of technology, furthermore, whether such an awareness is possible at large scale is unclear. There is not much to say that society will feel the weight of its decisions. This is all reasonable. People are much more logical at a base level than much of the political contention and ethical differences would suggest. Most of our motivations stem from our base feeling of the utility of things. Technology is a great example thereof, when people look at a new gizmo or gadget it is often clear that it has been made with a utilitarian purpose. The next iPhone will help you to communicate more efficiently than the previous version, the newer the cars the lower gas costs tend to be, the better the assembly lines are constructed the more products can be sent out to consumers for prices they can appreciate. Ecological problems and implications are often much harder to ameliorate. Often what is good for a person in a culture is not correlated to what is good for the environment, because it is what we can take from the environment rather than what we can give that is often considered. People don’t often colonize deserts, they colonize forests. Places with resources. These resources are exploited to the fullest with differing timelines depending on the acceleration of advancement therein. When groups decide to take areas, the natural world often combats change for a period, this is what is shown as ecological resilience, what there is clings on. This lasts a very large period of time, however, in the end, the acceleration of resource demands outstrips supply. In this scenario the logic is to paralyze development. The issue is that such problems can ultimately be seen from ground level, each person sees the issue with their own eyes. There is not a greater source of change above the parts of a group cooperating. Within western culture especially, the drive of competition outstrips the drive for conservation. It’s exhausting to watch and take part in at the same time.

Large Scale Problems don’t have small-scale solutions

Photographer and activist Chris Jordan approaches presenting the issue of climate change to the public through art by, instead of trying to individualize the contribution to the issue each of us shares, showing viewers the true scale of the problem with similar methodology to large-scale nature photographers. His artworks are largely aesthetic, their meaning coming from the cruel beauty of pollution and waste. The reason these works can be viewed as a tool for reflection, discussion, and awareness, is that they bring back an aspect lacking in other pieces on climate change: the true scale of our collective inaction. Sure, seeing your impact is important, however climate change is not just the plastic bottles you decide not to recycle; climate change is the erosion of climates due to millions of tons of waste, mountains of excess, and without seeing that clearly the gravity of the situation can fail to set in. Depending on the person the artwork will call to action to different degrees. Art is subjective, some pieces go for thousands, other for tens, while the true value for each individual differs beyond the digits in a price tag. In the end there can only be hope that such exposure plants a seed of activism in viewers. This artwork doesn’t try to dodge its own contribution to climate change, the project is not powerful because of its method but its beauty, it is art without sacrifices holding a provocative subject instead of being a provocative object. I could personally see the inspiration from such a piece coming from someone who thinks back to the piece with the idea of sustainability churning in their mind. Over time, such a piece could cause great change, but it will take a fanatic to do so.

We Sank an Island, then saved its people, then sank some more.

            “Savages,” it’s really easy to say, and being an adjective to describe something “not domesticated or under human control” or “lacking the restraints normal to civilized human beings,” I would expect the word to be used to describe animals with rabies, or zombies, or warfare, but not people. Yet this is what the indigenous in our own country were called upon our arrival in the Great Planes in the 1800s. Native Americans were deemed savages, taken from their lands, and either assimilated by force, or, at times, subjected to genocide. This sort of arbitrary authority undermines the very “civility” most colonial nations claim. The indigenous have been moved and manipulated, directly and indirectly, albeit without as overtly savage tact as in the past, without true question or consideration thereof. A modern example of such powerful change was the sinking of the island Tuvula, an indigenous populations homeland, due to global warming. Amending such a situation isn’t as simple government would like, because its banks cannot measure the death of a culture with a price tag. Robert Melchior Figueroa assesses the nature of the struggle through the lens of environmental impact within “Indigenous People and Cultural Losses,” in what is dubbed the “environmental justice framework.” First, Robert identifies the major losses of indigenous cultures to encroaching powers: their language, Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), culture and sovereign habitat. The “environmental justice framework” is an outline for how to empower the indigenous to save ecologies. Of particular importance to “environmental justice” is the idea of TEK: the stored knowledge indigenes have of their environments, told through song, tradition, and other experiences of the people. Data which can save lives is lost in colonialism, or, more recently, alongside the march towards permanent climate change, with the death of TEK. By empowering indigenous to preserve their TEK, they will seek the preservation of their lands, and hopefully influence others to do the same.

Sustainability is seldom straightforward

What is thought of as conservation, environmental sustainability, and environmental activism differs from person to person; people live in vastly different climates, occupy entirely distinct roles, and interact within diverse social spheres. “Sustainability,” an essay by Maria Garcia Maldonado, Rosario Garcia Meza, and Emily Yates-Doerr from the series “Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen,” confronts a reality of this exact issue: the duality of the word ‘sustainability’ as a universally understood message, and its literal inaccessibility within highland Guatemala. There, Dona Marta, a farmer of sorts, experiences a sort of operational invasion of her life. Projects send Marta alternative products to replace the ones she used previously and prevent further harm to the environment. Accepting these offerings, Marta is complicit in sustainability, yet, without a word for the concept, she lives without its true weight. The authors struggled to help her grasp the essence of the term. This inability enclosed most of the Guatemalan highlands in a struggle to improve sustainability without a true will to do so themselves. This exact situation captures the struggle of anthropologist’s lexicon. Searching for terms and phrases which pass on the same meaning and action, across the boundaries of culture and language, is attempted by a select few very… incredibly… slowly.

It is exceedingly difficult to efficiently get a specific idea across any space, even the dinner table. Remarkably, tiny errors in semantics and rhetoric can lead to vast instances of confusion, restatement, and reinterpretation, leaving little time for the essence of many broad statements and inquisitions to be uncovered. When people don’t fully comprehend, and yet, out of dogmatic faith, believe in something unconditionally, they tend to search for easy answers to questions surrounding their beliefs; why ponder the comprehensive, when blind trust in a set of actions will get a perceivably similar end result?

What happens when this mindset passes through a population? The few, highly practicable, minimally invasive ways to engage in a core idea prevail, becoming the calling card of the concept to the public, no matter how ridiculous they may be. An example to this end is recycling, a beautiful concept terribly executed by the well-intentioned masses. To be brief: the US decided to package what trash could, theoretically, be returned to utility as something new, and decided to ship it overseas, hoping that the theory would be put into physical practice. China eventually just gave up on taking our trash, we’ve already declared it trash, almost nothing has visibly changed, yet the face of environmental activism appears to be “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Ironically the figurehead idea in activism towards environmental sustainability is a red herring, a logical fallacy almost as effective as drinking less water to keep the rivers engorged through summer. We must take sustainability figurehead ideas with a grain of skepticism if any effective action to better our climate is taken.

“What hath god wrought” Upon These Innocent Savages?

Pope Francis was considered a radical by much of the Christian world when his view on the nature of man and his connection to climate change opposed much of the contemporary theological perceptions of nature and natures place in the world. A particularly striking piece to this end is the second chapter of the Laudato Si’, which contains such rhetorical similarity to a plea for wounded friend’s life that it hinges on the edge of uncomfortable condolence and tearful empathy within a viewer’s conscience. Francis describes the personification of the earth to elicit a feeling of camaraderie and conscription within a societal system; the earth, a subject of our own matrix of control. Such a matrix within Francis’ writing, predicated on a voracious appetite for natural resources, suggests the genocidal manipulation of nature is bifurcated into both an attack on man and nature in one.

            Following the line of theological ideas left by Francis, Lynn White, Jr. continues the sentiments of the church within an algorithmic deduction of the motivations which spawned the need for such a mention of man’s relation to nature in the first place. Lynn observes the ideological separation of the eastern and western perceptions of nature within early civilization, alongside the creation of the allocation of resources according to economic pull rather than need, and places their precipice at the head of the concept that, as long as man is separated from nature and is superior, at least in concept, the ecological landscape will reflect our avarice, to highly probable deadly affect.

            The sentiments within each of these pieces rings true to myself as an aspiring scientist who knows, for a fact, that saying on certain grounds that I pursue such an interest as ‘a means to advancing the human condition’ is merely shorthand for an uncomplicated thrill of discovery and narcissistic measure of impact. Not too long ago, I was stuck within my own home because the air which consumed the space between my habitat and the others was scientifically known to be hazardous. I was happy; in some space, given environmental constraints, I was able to find joy in my connection to others through server rooms jam-packed with computers. Birds had left a few days before. Deer were few and far between. The animals had all but abandoned us as we waited to either get a signal to evacuate or see enough clear blue skies to go outside of our homes. The fires really shook what I thought I needed to be happy. I only hope that the ability of humans to persevere through their connections to others doesn’t leave climate change as an afterthought. However little of an environment we have in the future, I am sure that the humans then will be just as happy to be alive as those today, I hope that the fact that happiness is arbitrary doesn’t kill the planets beautiful ecosystem.