Extract: TECHNOFOSSILS AND RADIONUCLIDES. Welcome to the Anthropocene.

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The following extract is from my article published in Earthlines, Issue 15. July 2016.

“The most sinister and compelling evidence to mark the start of the Anthropocene coincides with the commencement of nuclear weapons testing and the detonation of the Trinity atomic device at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on 16 July 1945.

Fallout radionuclides from 1945 to 1951 came from fission devices, and resulted only in locally traceable signatures. But the fallout from the more advanced thermonuclear weapon tests that began in 1952, peaking around 1961-1962, left markers that are traceable globally, with the highest densities in the northern hemisphere, where most of the tests were carried out.

We appear to have provoked a new stratigraphic age by some primordial instinct for violence and territorial dominance. No matter how much we might be repulsed by this concept, the signatures are already there, in the sediments.”

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Killing the ethic of killing.

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(Grey Squirrel, photo by me)

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realised then and have known ever since that there was something new to me in those eyes, something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.” Thinking Like a Mountain, A Sand County Almanac.

Death. We know it as an inevitability. There’s no elixir, to date, which grants us immortality. Death cannot be denied to all things that live. Hunger, senescence and biological weakness are the undeniable ways of this world.

That we humans, as part of nature, take life away from other beings is not always a wrongdoing. Peace on Earth is never going to be do-able when ecological violence and pain exist innately within the evolution of how life acquires energy; largely by the consumption of others.

More, we humans cause death by accident, neglect or ignorance. We might accidentally step on an ant, or a dandelion growing in a crack in the pavement. We might buy clothing from a retailer who sources stock from a place where river life is killed by dye run-off. We might choose to take our own life. We may even help others to end theirs.

Whether our actions are morally right or wrong lies somewhere within the depths of consciousness, control, intent and consequence. It’s a minefield of conflicting values, cultures and sensibilities. One might kill in self defence, for food to survive, but how many other circumstances are so arguable?

Conservation killing weighs particularly heavy on my consciousness. As the need to counter biospheric destruction grows greater than ever, the protection of one species directly against another seems a compelling act of penance for our stupidity. We are witnessing huge declines in biodiversity and abundance, catalysed now by an exponentially and rapidly changing climate. Species, both flora and fauna, are on the move, whether it be by our own hand or their own volition.

As environmentalists, I think we need to choose our responses carefully, avoiding self appointed Godliness driven by guilt, picking out who live or die by the fate of western one-upmanship, scientific drive and population data-sets. Please, just stop and consider the ramifications. How does killing really put a wrong right? Are we ever going to be so sure of outcomes, when we consider the vast complexity and interconnectedness of life? Rarely, I would suggest.

Some may say the outcome of no action is a dead end. I agree. As I see it, we need to act and fast. Non-lethal approaches ought to be paramount, providing space and place for suitable habitat, refugia, safe passage. We do not need to reach first for the gun, trap or poison.

I assert the killing of species not for food, in Western culture at least, stems from an archaic, patriarchal system of domination over the environment and control over other people, bleeding unnecessarily into modern life. These days, we appreciate there are the obvious psychopaths who maim and kill for selfish pleasure. They post images of themselves alongside their trophy-victims in acts of ultimate narcissistic revelry. But look again at our culture. The great, white hunter lives on, among the pest control ads in the newspaper, the farmer’s son with his shotgun after crows, the modern game keeper and, tragically, some conservation biologists and educators themselves. Allan/Allana Quartermaine’s of colonial expansion and profit assume an entitlement, that what they do is morally right, no matter what criticism is levelled at them.

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(Shot corvids on sticks, photo by me)

That women have adopted the culture of killing is no surprise. One can admire and feel pride in a father’s ability to assert dominance and emulate as an equal. It’s a type of feminism we can all recognise, if honest. But it is hugely strong to reject the father’s ways for something better, and no act of kindness is ever wasted.

I seem impossibly both Kantian and Singerian when I state that we do ourselves injury by deliberate cruelty and murder of others, but also recognise that others are intrinsically valuable in themselves. And I cannot for the life of me see why this conflicts. But neither is it certain that other lives, apart from humans, are mere unconscious automatons (Kant), nor the greatest good be granted only for the greatest number (Singer). So I can reject both. Instead, I perceive all as dynamic process and by preventing the flourishing and interaction of the flow of life, we do wrong. The opposite is true when we aid life and help all.

I can’t bound this argument to whether conservation killing serves speciesist purpose. There is a wider problem. By making killing appear normal, those people of influence direct others, some of whom are not particularly ecoliterate and would act broadly and on impulse in any given situation.

I once heard from a neighbour of mine as we stood in the village square waiting for our chips to be cooked by the local postman (another story). The man had been out shooting grey squirrels and he said he was feeling very happy. I asked him why? To save the reds, was his response. It was in the Telegraph! I explained to him that the nearest red squirrels were at least 60 miles away. How would taking pot-shots at some of the local greys help those reds? It seemed mightily unfair on those individuals he randomly shot! In any case, to completely exterminate all two million grey squirrels in Britain would be a blood-letting so enormous as to traumatise all. It didn’t seem to register with my neighbour, as he began to complain about his trees being bark stripped. But I explained this is tree-squirrels’ ecological purpose, in the death and renewal of tree-communities. Pox! He insisted. Well, the random killing of greys, sick or not, reduces the chance of them ever developing natural resistance.

I told him he might think about planting native pines (far more suitable habitat for red squirrels), 60 miles from Mid Wales to his front door. He pulled a face. To top it, I also mentioned pine martens. Game keepers and land managers have pretty much wiped them out, yet apparently they do a good job of predating greys, able to catch them whilst lighter reds can escape by climbing to smaller twigs. He immediately bagan twitching, saying he’d worry about his chickens if the pine martens returned. I sighed and carried on with my day. Conservation NGOs and their allies in the news business, carry a huge responsibility to be ethical role models in their decision making, as well as being scientifically adroit.

So it was with great disappointment, a deep sinking and frustrated knot in the pit of my being, that I read of Red Squirrels United, an NGO front for a purge of a sentient creature, the grey squirrel, in claims that this will save the reds from extinction.

Greys were introduced by humans onto our islands way back in the 19th Century. They may well have arrived in Britain sooner or later, given the huge expansion of human technological development of transport, especially in trade and tourism with North America. The movement of species around the globe is inextricably linked to capitalist globalisation, with tentacles reaching back deep into Western exploration, scientific species collecting and colonial exploitation.

The reds were persecuted long before the arrival of the greys. In the New Forest alone, during the 1880s up to 2,800 reds were killed annually, by way of example (Silent Fields by Roger Lovegrove p 96). But consider this. The total red squirrel range is huge beyond our islands. There are eurasian reds from Ireland to the Russian coast on the Bering Sea. Like so many species, they are impacted by human actions and development, of course. Logging and the decimation of native pinewoods for non-endemic softwoods have cost them dearly. But we are not witnessing their extinction from the face of the planet. Not yet. Western Australian numbats, or New Zealand Maui’s dolphins, are down to the last few tens in number. That’s a crisis which may warrant more drastic action, not the plight of the red squirrel in Britain.

Red Squirrels United, which includes the Wildlife Trusts, are led by scientists with the notion that red squirrels in the UK are more valuable than greys, as enacted by the public/EU/lottery funded and “robust” conservation scheme to employ an extra 5,000 volunteers, a pro-amateur combo, to bludgeon to death the latter. How can this be a good thing? Far from being an enlightened, progressive measure, this is speciesism at its most determined, and heinously aggressive. More, that we have a culture who might vote to “save the reds” on account of their good looks and nostalgic value alone, seems ever-more anthropocentric. Ecosystems would suffer terribly by repetitive acts of cutism, or kawaii as the Chinese refer, where the weak, doe-eyed and unfathomably pretty are selected disproportionately to all else. Ah, but cute ‘Bob’ engages the people, I hear the NGO brand managers chant. Eco-systemically, this is crazy, an ethic which would skew food webs to hell and back. The scientists know it, and the argument soon falls away.

Conservation biologists are reductionists by training. Emphasis centres on population quantification and habitat availability, not the sentient physiology of any single being. When someone kills a living being, they assert their needs and wants over and above the value of the other. We hear, more often than not, that saving nature is good only because it is good for us ~ ‘us,’ of course, already being a rather selfish species.

Essentially, the other’s intrinsic ability to flourish is devalued to nil. Why should we humans, beyond the need for our own individual survival, be so cock-sure that is the best way to discriminate? What if we saved nature for the good of itself, we being included? The emphasis shifts to grant all with a direct moral status.

“The biocentric outlook on nature has four main components. (1) Humans are thought of as members of the Earth’s community of life, holding that membership on the same terms as apply to all the nonhuman members. (2) The Earth’s natural ecosystems as a totality are seen as a complex web of interconnected elements, with the sound biological functioning of each being dependent on the sound biological functioning of the others…. (3) Each individual organism is conceived of as a teleological center of life, pursuing its own good in its own way. (4) Whether we are concerned with standards of merit or with the concept of inherent worth, the claim that humans by their very nature are superior to other species is a groundless claim and, in the light of elements (1), (2), and (3) above, must be rejected as nothing more than an irrational bias in our own favor.”
Paul Taylor (1981)

Nature is so complex that taking away or adding building blocks is as much of a risk as leaving matters to the theory of homeostasis, or imagining a fixed utopian ecosystem. So-called alien species have been integral to evolution. We are not living in disneyland. Nature is dynamic. It changes, evolves and adapts. Let it.

If we intervene constantly and rapidly, nature is on a short-leash to react constantly, though by slower adjustment. We are picking at healing wounds. Instead, give space and time to process for nature to respond to our foolishness, because that is an act of love and undervalued by many.

Similarly, we can do much to slow the spread of so-called ‘invasive’ and ‘alien’ species now that we have a greater understanding of our impacts, but as far as grey squirrels are concerned, they are here to stay unless blood-letting reaches maximum output. The prospect of encouraging all humans to endlessly kill them, by all kinds of means, including with bags and blunt instruments, is not only hideously cruel, but also of the worst type of anthropocentric dominion. We are not gods. Neither should we expect of ourselves the vast understanding of complexity of life by assuming we are shepherds of every other living being.

And then there is love. Where’s the love? I write not of limp sentimentality but the strongest forms of kinship, which motivate us to do good things. I ask that we learn to love greys, like a child innately does so in the city park, observing and delighting in their antics, subliminally understanding that she is not alone here in this world. There are beings going about their daily lives as we do, and they are precious. They are involved in the flows of all life, as we are. Conservation biologists seem so averse to the idea that emotion be applied in any form to the decision making. Yet emotions are relevant and scientifically empirical. Emotions have evolved to motivate us in our actions. Combined with rationale, they are fundamental to our moral consciousness.

Plus, we can no longer remain accepting of the basic tenets of this utilitarianism (after Singer, the approach that weighs the costs/benefits of alternative courses of action and leads the decision-maker to act in a way that maximises the net benefits to the various stakeholders involved). Most don’t even consider their philosophy as utilitarian, yet it is imposed upon nature without wide debate and public consent. It’s also the general attitude of holism, the ecocentric view of what holds most value in life ~ the whole is worth more than the constituent members. Therefore, those individual members are deemed expendible for the greater whole. But as Heraclitus’ Unity of Opposites plays out in nature, there can be some measure between the needs of the individual verses the needs of the greater whole. In red squirrel conservation right now, we are seeing no accounting for the former when it comes to the value of an individual, sentient grey squirrel. Neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed that killing wolves to save deer was right, says Leopold. The green fire simply dies.

Where we are culpable to a huge extent, right now (those of us more ecologically informed, at least), is the continued acceptance of deliberate, expansive human development and intolerance towards the natural regeneration of habitats for the benefit of biodiversity, abundance and process. We can also slow down our global movement of species, our ‘high’ on travel technology and international trade, and increase awareness of the value of endemic life.

Reds or greys, squirrels have been doing squirrelly things in woodland ecosystems for eons, with mutuality and beauty. Greys are here to stay, please accept this. There are other pressures on reds that we need to factor. Improving habitat and compassionate conservation are hugely more advantageous than reliance on the ethic of killing, I suggest, a win win situation for all.

For more on Compassionate Conservation, please click here.

 

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Corsindolorn

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To feel corsindolorn is a kind of relief. When one carries the burden of understanding just how much Earth-destruction there has been, and is underway, it is momentarily negated by being present in places where life flourishes in abundance.

 

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Cavignus ~ A midsummer gift.

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My word for this midsummer’s day, when our star is strong in the Northern Hemisphere.

Sunshine penetrates the deepest hollows in trees, earth, rivers and rockpools. And with the moving shadows of leaves, birds and fish, the light dances like a sacred flame.

 

This word is my gift to

Thank you for introducing tweavelets to your readers of Landmarks. Ginny.

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Avumbra

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Sanguimund

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Ginny Battson © 2012

(adjective)

Examples ~

As I walk through the sanguimund woodland…

I am open to the sanguimund as I gaze along the coastal margins.

The sanguimund of this city is hope for the future.

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Devotion, life.

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Ginny Battson © 2017

Today, I observed the most intimate union between flower and fly, what we might call the process of cross-pollination, though the words ‘process’ and ‘pollination’ are remarkably poor in communicating the magnificence of what I saw.

Here am I, a giant voyeur, standing in a rhos meadow bristling with life, overwhelmed by curiosity for the behaviour of another. I lean slowly over the scene in hope that I will not disturb.

She, the hover-fly, of the species Rhingia campestris, caught my eye elsewhere, her winged-iridescence registering on my retinal cells with luminosity and grace. My brain is stimulated, deep furrows of experience over decades, to follow her movement through the air. She alights on the signal of a freshly unfurled yellow flag sepal, glowing in full sun. And I am rewarded.

A sense of kinship consumes me. My emotional and rational responses are inseparable. I can’t help but smile.

For a moment, I try to imagine being her, with a conscious detachment from my own sense of self. It’s not easy. I absorb the scale of the huge arc of yellow surrounding me, and the touch of the cool epidermis cells beneath my padded, clawed feet. I carry a few dimpled pollen grains on my back, brushed on by an anther from another iris. They don’t disturb me too much, I’ll maybe flick them away later.

I give up imagining and just observe.

I remember what happened next, as if ripples of sensuous energy are still flowing out from the event and enveloping me. This little hover-fly chose to raise her front legs to the iris anthers, and place her tiny feet on the pollen. She was looking intensely at what she was doing, her long proboscis extending to consume what she had found. The intimacy was so gentle, so loving, a touch that we may not even acknowledge could exist without either imagination or technology. I can only describe it as pure devotion. She spends time, very slowly for a vulnerable fly, exuding devotion.

I can hear the cynical chatter. But yes. Why not?

Her senses are way more luxuriant than our own, her feet are also tongues, with added chemoreceptors enabling her to both touch and taste her protein-rich food. She licks and savours every crum, an evolutionary calling to eat and be healthy.

Chemical molecules from the pollen have contacted her dendrite and neuron cells, sending electrical impulses, like waves, through her nervous system to her brain. She then directs muscles to take action, gently extending her proboscis and salivating to feed. With her soft mouthparts, labella, like two grooved sponges, she soaks nutrition up and into her esophagus. Like us, she enjoys it very much, her reward centres lighting up in her brain. All the while, her eggs will be nourished inside her to be laid in number for the few to flourish.

There’s more. This is the symbiosis of flora and fauna, a miraculous relationship going back fifty million years. Gifts of food are exchanged for sexual reproduction. And it happens every moment of every day, across the globe. Eros lives, and thank goodness for it. I have a basic understanding of the overall sequence of events, but I cannot sense the quantum scale, the electrical depolarisation of atoms in order for cells to communicate. I just have to imagine it, trusting in the science learned from others. Does the fly sense the quantum? She might. If there are beings on this Earth that do,without tools and devices, then they are indeed miraculous and we should refrain from blasting them with toxic sprays in the meanwhile.

The pollen, flower-sperm, on Rhingia c’s back from another flower’s anther will rub against the sticky stigma lip under the petal, as she reaches deeper and deeper for pollen. From this point, germination begins and the microscopic process of double fertilisation is set in motion. More quantum changes are underway.

The quantum and the cosmological, flows of matter and other phenomenon between beings in the Ghedeist, the complex flows of light, water, nutrition, cows, cow pats, neurological electrical impulse, imagination, Rhingia c, cross-pollination, yellow flag, flight, quantum, cosmos, renewal, death… this is the fluminist’s altar. We humans are not the creators. This is the miracle of life itself.

But we have exerted huge and irreversible pressures on this magnificence. We scavenge and parasitise by feeding from the produce of this sublime process, amongst others, but it is the flower and the insect who have evolved together over millions of years in this devoted union. We may well be causing other unions in our ignorance, which may take hundreds of thousands of years to fully take shape. But the fly and the flower exist now. We need to respect them and leave them in peace. We’ve destroyed much, and it has to stop. A critical mass of devotion is needed, previously unknown in human history, as there are now more humans than ever before.

There is even more ~ the trophic function of the flower and the fly. Rhingia c, and even her larvae growing and feeding in cow dung nearby, will also be food for other species. Her existence and death mean they too are able to exist. The illusive spotted flycatcher has flown all the way from Africa to rear her young here and my hover-fly may well end up in their devoted beaks. This devotion, the love for life and living, is a powerful force. There is no doubt in my mind that there would be no life without it. It is ancient ~ a form of love so powerful as to energise evolution. I imagine the story lies deep in the earliest records of life, somewhere, tucked away perhaps, in stromatolites, which supplied Earth with no less than oxygen itself. Colossal devotion must have existed in the face of all hostility and, as a metabolising strength, within and between us now, and of all living beings into the future. As we move into increasingly turbulent times, the union of the flower and the fly is a devotion of incalculable value, a love, I suggest, worthy of the deepest respect and celebration.

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Words and Phrases to avoid moral accountability in human/non-human relationships ~ contributions via Twitter, with thanks.

Language is power. Observe meanings and misrepresentations.

Please feel free to contribute.

via @FindNatureNow “There’s a deceptive style of ‘code talk’ that’s become pervasive in US government re: treatment of wildlife. It’s the psychology of attempting to increase a false ‘public acceptance’ of the blatant mistreatment and abuse of wildlife. Important topic!”

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To Earth, my daughter.

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Paintings of wild animals and hand markings left by adults and children on Sulawesi cave walls, Indonesia, at least 35,000 years old, some of the oldest artworks known. Photo: Maxime Aubert, Griffith University 2014 – do click on the image for more information.

 

For a while, I think of Earth not as mother but as my child. She’s my daughter, the one I love most, though we are mirrors. Our hands lay upon the cave walls. Ochre, stardust, DNA.

Work in progress…

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I gift my deep love to you, unconditionally. I show you love by the things I do. From the beginning, we respect one another and reciprocate all.

I care for you in the best ways I know. Life is a continuous search for those ways, especially in this era of human artificalis.

Ask me questions and I’ll try to answer them. If I have no answers, I’ll say. Perhaps, we’ll discover those answers together. Or we’ll enjoy trying. We’ll laugh at the impossibilities.

You’ll make mistakes, often the best way to learn. I too make mistakes, often. I’ll admit when I’m wrong, and you’ll have my apologies.

I will lavish my time upon you, and be generous in your freedom. When you’re sick, I’ll tend to you and do all I can to make you better.

I give you my strength to move through uncertainty, and my resolve to find solutions to problems. It is normal to feel scared. But come to me when you know you need help. I will do all I can for you.

We will share memories and stories, and form new ones together. There is pain between us, we live it like a question. And then there is forgiveness.

I pay attention to you, no matter what I am doing. I listen to you for who you are, not who I think you should be. I’m here for you for as long as there’s breath in my body, and beyond. I embrace you.

I am not jealous but gratified by all your great loves and friendships. I learn from you.

There are many lives interconnected with you, and with multiple values, perspectives, senses and ideals. I accept that you have your beliefs, come what may, so long as you are safe. For it is my job to keep you safe…

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With thanks to Gracie, my daughter, for her valued input. x

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Great Pond Mountain

Sound of the Whip-Poor-Will via The Macaulay Library

My baby lay on a rainbow rug on a granite summit, the cells of her new born skin shimmering in the Maine sun. Big Fall skies stretched bands of cloud to streamers, whilst hundreds of acres of clear-fell and regenerating forest rolled atop the undulations below us. A few passerines flitted high in the cerulean, like moths.

I gazed deep into Gracie’s brown eyes and watched as she absorbed my animated mouthing of words … ‘big blue sky’, ‘clouds’, ‘birds’. She looked up into the air, kicked her legs and returned her gaze to me. I smiled, packed her changing things away into a shoulder bag and scooped her up into my arms to face the vista. We danced to a silent rhythm, as parents and their children so often do, and she regained her sense of up and down. The gentle arch of Earth’s distant horizon burned into our memory cells.

And then, with a few tentative steps to avoid the oldest of lichens healing this bald mountain, we joined new friends for the return hike. As we made our way downwards, the sky turned slate with encroaching night and stained black the few blueberries left uneaten by bears on the path. What’s more, as we returned to the car, I think we heard the lament of a distant whip-poor-will. I am not entirely sure. It is humbling that some things will always remain a beautiful and affecting mystery. Gracie heard it too, turning to the sky to look for a bird. Connections had been made.

Great Pond Mountain was a grand moment in the small scheme of things, a quintessential mother-daughter bonding in fresh air and crystal light. I’m sure my daughter had noticed birds before in her short few weeks thus far, but their presence in that particular sky, above that particular mountain, I’d like to imagine, is the moment she discovered life as interconnected ~ we, the sky, birds and love.

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