Monday 6 July 2020

Toe bone connected

We have one planet, so let's not mess it up!
Ooops, maybe too late. I R [not really] working from home, because my job in The Institute involves ludicrously long holidays, so that means I can catch up on the book-reading and listen to the wireless between episodes of work. One thing I found in teaching a silly variety of courses over the last nearly 8 years, is that everything is connected. Maybe only in my mind; but I can remember several times when I shared something I learned about environmental water chemistry in my human physiology lectures. If we'd had normal library service then Ramp Hollow, Steven Stoll's wide-ranging and super distressing history of Appalachia [prev] would have been returned months ago even though I never finished it.

One of themes running through the book is reflecting on whether people who had no money were 'poor'. The inhabitants of the hollows, and dead-end valleys of Appalachians were subsistence farmers who grew or hunted or scavenged almost everything they wanted or needed from their immediate environment. That included a patch of corn, squash and potatoes, a few hogs and whatever they could find in the woods. That included wood for fuel, furniture, tools, toys and building. For the last 100 years, The Man felt that, for their own good and the good of the country, these people would be $$$ better off working in mines, foundries and factories for money and buying their food in shops like folks in Washington DC. It was the devil's bargain for those who embraced it because the work was relentless to pay the rent, taxes and still have enough for food. It's what has been meted out on peasants the world over as they wash-up crammed into favelas, townships and barrios working for $2-a-day making shoes and shirtings for you and me.

A key plank in the legislation was Wickard v. Filburn, a 1942 SCOTUS ruling that gave an enormous boost to the regulatory authority of The Feds. It hinged on what Roscoe Filburn a small farmer from Ohio was entitled to do with the wheat he grew on the acres he owned. Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 limited the amount of wheat that could be harvested by any farmer in order to keep the price artificially high . . . to benefit all farmers. Filburn was entitled to harvest 11 acres which he did; but he also sowed and harvested an additional 12 acres of wheat "for his own use". He argued that this additional wheat never reached the market and so had no impact thereon. SCOTUS ruled, unanimously, that by eating his own bread, milled from his own wheat he was, of course, impacting the economy because he wasn't buying bread in the store in town . . . and that the ripples of this would extend across state lines [key issue in the perennially contentious balance between states-rights and central government] to affect the price of wheat in Kentucky and [{Quiz time betcha cannot name the other four OH-bordering states}]. Since then you cannot really claim to be self-sufficient. Poor old Roscoe, he must have felt like the butterfly that flapped its wings in Costa Rica and caused Storm Ophelia here 3 months later.

That paragraph in Ramp Hollow made me particularly receptive when during my next tea-break I caught Pat Kenny interviewing Garret Kelly, the gaffer at SEE Change Net based in Sarajevo. SEE Change Net seems to be a climate/carbon mitigation expert group with a 2019 turnover of 450,000 Bosnian Marks =~ €225,000. It's hard to make out what they actually do [except buy Carbon Damage Mitigation Certificates (CMDC) when they fly; serve no meat [vegowraps for all R] at their functions and promise to walk a lot] but Kelly seems to know his carbon onions and had been asked to comment on the programme-for-government negotiated among the Greens and Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.  He reckons that for a small island nation with a really windy sea-board, off-shore wind is really the only sensible solution. We import a climate-wilting €3 billion worth of fuel each year because we are wedded to cars, buses and trucks. He pointed out that our 7 million hectares of land is limited and alternate uses must be traded off against each other. Those uses are broadly:
  • Biodiversity
  • Food
  • Fuel
  • Carbon sequestration in forest
That puts the kibosh on truly sinful ideas like bio-diesel. WTF do you think you're at if you could consider lurrying nitrates onto a field to increase the yield of oil-seed rape to drive some yob's land-rover. Nitrates will ineradicably alter the microbial flora of the field. If you add pesticides to mitigate damage by slugs, flea-beetles and leaf-miners then you are depleting the really pretty bio-diversity as well. Don't, just DON'T. And, me, I should really look at my smug self-sufficient wood-lot as a means for heating the kettle for my hot-water bottle. In the post interview comments, a couple of people pleaded for methane digestors to generate electricity to be integrated into all municipal waste-water treatment plants. You'd have to look carefully at the pay-back time of that sort of investment and probably appreciate that any such contribution is going to be in the ha'penny place in servicing our relentless. implacable, demand for yet more energy to store our holiday snaps and hilarious prat-fall videos; drive to the mall to buy our daily lattes.; and keep the house at 25°C so we can lounge about in tee-shirts watching the rugger in February.
Tsk! and, like, harrrumph!

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