Auranima

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Photo by me

Auranima (latin glimmer/ghost) ~ my latest #inventaword, for when the sun shines on glossy leaves, wet pebbles or corvid feathers, turning them white.

When there are many moments of auranima at one time, say in a forest understorey of holly, or a flock of rooks taking flight, it might seem like the brightest, gleaming mist.

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The Badger Cull: Backfire Effect and Self Esteem

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There’s palpable desperation from those good people who know that the badger cull is wrong in every sense. People who want to protect badgers need the best arguments to save them from imminent death. Many campaigners against the cull are claiming to be fully objective in their considerations because they are quoting the science. In doing so, the aim is to persuade the ‘opposition’ to simply accept they are in the wrong and change their minds. I’ve done this myself in the past, but I’m afraid it won’t work.

If you want to talk about the science, let’s talk about psychology.

As social animals, dependent on groups with a common interest, the more threatened humans feel (by economic uncertainty, aggression or negativity), the more they circle the wagons of opinion to keep the ‘tribe’ together, bonded and ‘safe’. They grow increasingly inflexible and defensive regardless of the facts. Psychologists call it the Backfire Effect. In the case of the pro-culling lobby, this includes many farmers, NFU and rural politicians who rely on their votes. No matter how many facts you throw at people who are already prejudiced against an action, angry or scared, you will not likely change their minds. Indignation may even increase.

By contrast, studies show the less threatened humans feel, the more flexible opinions are likely to be, and so the more likely minds will change. If a group feel valued, with increased feelings of self-esteem, and an inner confidence about the good things they have achieved, they are far more likely to concede ground, accept new facts, compromise and change their minds.

So, as much as we might want to hurl rocks (or facts), we may be far more successful in convincing the dairy industry to change if we hired community halls and invited all to come celebrate the products to be bought for a decent price. With humans, mostly, facts come second to values.

At such events, healing could occur, empathy established for both sides and facts exchanged in a more caring environment. Each side might realise that, as producer and consumer (unless vegan), it is in both our interests to get things right. Maybe reciprocal events could also be arranged such as farm open days and badger watching/ecology lectures.

Anti-cull campaigners claim objectivity in contrast with the vested interests of the farmers. Some are actively signalling that showing emotion somehow weakens the cause. Many have stopped claiming they are the voice of the badgers in a socio-political system that does not directly represent non-human interests. Many have curtailed arguing that the cull is inhumane. Some have stopped arguing that they love these wild lives and want to protect from blatant, unecessary cruelty and death. Sympathy for the cows has waned and, more still, for the farmers and their families. It’s not surprising. The cull has been, and will be, brutal and pointless. It may even make things worse.

I’ll say this now. I strongly contest the assumption that emotions are weak. Emotions cannot be discounted because they are, and scientifically proven to be, part of our moral evolutionary frameworks for decision making. Of course we are all biased, with a fabric of values woven throughout our lives. Those of us who wish the badger culls to cease have taken sides, of course we have! It is the scientific findings that are unbiased and these assertions of fact are what we ought to be using in ethical decisions discerning wrong from right. Key, opponents will see through any bias-denial, and consequently find it easy to throw all arguments out with the bath water, including the valuable conclusions of the unbiased RBCT (see below).

So what do we do? We look at VALUES.

After years of being underpaid for their products and hard work, since the disbanding of the milk marketing board, increased power of the supermarkets over price and demand, the expectation of increased yields, and other factors impacting costs and price, farmers, mostly with a love of their land and the physical lifestyle, feel mentally cornered, undervalued and financially threatened. The National Herd suffers further because of the intensification required to simply earn a crust. Bovine biology has not evolved to cope with such pressures and animal immunity has weakened (e.g. rates of mastitis are also high). Vets bills have increased. Farmers are angry that bTB has impacted their lives on top of a failing market system with ever decreasing margins. EU laws forbid vaccinated meat and products for export.

Sadly, the rationale for attacking badgers is massively poor and they hurt themselves in pursuing actions that may make the situation worse in the long run. Worst of all, evidentially, are the markets for distributing animals sold across the nation when cow to cow infection is most prevalent. Badger vaccination can assist in localised reservoirs of disease in the wild.

Yes, empirical science ought to be foundational in making the moral choices. We need certain facts in order to make coherent assessments. The Randomised Badger Culling Trial report, authored by Krebs, et al (I have read in its entirety), is broad and deep in its scientific rigour. It has been subject to attack, regardless, with data and conclusions often misquoted or edited out of context. Read it yourselves for the minutae. But whilst overseeing the killing of around 11,000 badgers in the process of crystalisation (one cannot argue that the authors were biased by sanctifying life in their empirical work), the key conclusion was that, at best, killing local badgers over a 9 year period would yield a 16% drop in the increase of cattle infection rates of bTB.

The Conservative Party’s decision to largely extirpate a native species from large areas of terrestrial England is, no doubt, to preserve the farming ‘tribe’ vote, because they are reciprocating action for votes in expectation they will maintain power in these rural strongholds. Good science has been ignored, deliberately muddled and misconstrued. This is a stategy, but also a tragedy, for the sake of the National Herd, farmers, badgers, whole ecosystems and all concerned citizens.

Complicating things further, there are still deep prejudices against badgers, largely through ecological and biological ignorance and the perception of badgers as an ‘out of control’ population of pests and vermin. These prejudices are sometimes passed down from father to son. Badger baiting and the blocking of sett entrances are still prevalent, with the culling providing some false sense of legitimacy to continuing persecution. It only takes a handful of men, on the sly, with a spade and a few breeze blocks (or terriers) to do great damage in a large area of badger territory. But it is not all farmers or members of the NFU, and the culprits are sometimes not even from the local area. In Radnorshire, I’ve personally stumbled across badger hunters, trying to block setts and using terriers, that have driven over the Beacons from the South Wales mining towns. They claimed they were rabbit hunting but that was a pathetic excuse. I could see exactly what they were doing! It wasn’t a pleasant experience and I was threatened when I asked if they had the farmer’s permission to be on the land. I left quickly and felt grateful to get back to the safety of my car.

When two different value sets clash, yes, absolutely, peer reviewed empirical science ought to help us make the right choices. But look out for the Backfire Effect. It’s more common than you think. When we reduce the arguments to just ‘science’, it is no panacea. Science has some uncertainty, and there are those who will try to take advantage of the uncertainty. There is good and bad science and scientists, perhaps, paid by biased organisations or governments, rather than fully independent funders, who’s work may not be as rangy, enduring, or may not be communicated well via non-science spin-doctors. Science too often needs scientifically literate people to understand it. For example, Hansard revealed a major problem after the main debate in parliament about probable outcomes. As mentioned above, the RBCT concluded that in a period of ‘reactive’ culling (upon outbreak of infection in a herd) lasting nine years, there was only a 16% reduction in the rate of increase of bTB infection in cattle and sometimes infection rates became worse, in time. Some politicians took that to mean a clear 16% decrease in infection. Lord Krebs tried to correct them, but the “misunderstanding” obviously became stuck in some minds and has been repeated since. This is all very frustrating, and I was left reeling that 11,000 badgers died to discover this “truth”. Proactive culling means extirpation. If we wish to stamp out bTB now endemic in the wild because of imported, infected cattle, we’ll need to consider wiping out all infectable mammals, as the potential is vast. Who can consent to such an outrage? Better still, and environmentally sustainable too, is to encourage local markets for both livestock and produce, assist in farm biosecurity and pay a decent price for dairy produce.

Back to values. The farmers are passionate and are emotive in their lobbying. We must also be unafraid to express our passion and emotion because to deny we are biased is an untruth. But if you really want people to accept the findings of the RBCT and stop this cull, I think we need to be kinder in our delivery of the facts, give to the dairy lobby an all round boost of self esteem, establishing caring connections through values. For this too is objective science, it appears – the science of psychology.

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For further insight, please read Elizabeth Kolbert’s article in The New Yorker ~ Why facts don’t change our minds. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds

And for the Backfire Effect and the benefits of increasing self esteem in accepting new facts, please read Maria Konnikova’s article ~ I don’t want to be right. http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/i-dont-want-to-be-right

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The Sacred and me.

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Click the Image for more on Variable Oystercatchers via NZ Birds Online.

Today, I write only with a light touch about the sacred. I’m no expert. Neither am I entirely sure of the fullness of its nature. My spiritual sense of self, you could say, is often non-existent. Otherwise, it lays somewhere in a starry haze of semi-conscioussness that is ill-defined. I need to be full of wine to feel anything like I imagine it to be, unless it is simply the feeling of loving and being loved. I have no faith in an afterlife, and heaven is most definitely a place of ecological vibrance, a place on Planet Earth. Theologians have their time-layered works bound in chained libraries, and literature is loaded with the romance and the symbolism. Research potential is vast and just a little bit daunting. So I’m going to be bold and say here only what I have been thinking over the last few weeks.

Despite the amplitude of human thought, maybe we’ll never fully articulate what constitutes the most sacred. In so many ways, I’d rather leave it a mystery. I do see purpose in exploring the sacred extrinsically, none-the-less. This is the reason why I write today.

There’s credence in declaring ecological networks sacred as a route to the protection of life, a full sanctity of life. Nurtured this way, perhaps, the sacred become inviolable. Constituent lives are liberated to evolve with a free-will, a flourish of nature’s effervescent, green fuse. More, by cultivating a collective reverence for the presence of a community of living beings ~ through narratives, ritual and rules ~ we may look and ‘see’ life in new ways, a wave of sanguimund spreading though each one of us, the wonder of interconnected life. There have been many before us using sacred words with similar meanings now lost, and I hope many after, with words yet to be created. All I ask that we think about creating our own sacred, build the narratives and exercise the rituals. Then, defend from the profane. And that defense, in sanctity and in love, will need to be strong.

Guarding the sacred is not limited to protection from human intrusion. Sometimes, the opposite is vital. Sometimes, the sacred is one’s presence or consciousness and the tending of ecosystem in a loving, fluministic way. Fenced-off zones around Chernobyl have led to non-human life returning in abundance. There is a sanctity in the absolute devotion of ecological networks of that place. But the absence of humans is not a pre-requisite of the sacred. Churches may seem at their most holy when the bells toll loudly, when the stalls are heaving with parishioners singing hymns at the top of their voices. The sacred seems to exist somewhere in the union of the people in the nave, all facing east, a sense of reverence helped along by those clever architects placing windows in the clerestory to remind of God’s presence in beams of moted dustlight. The land can hold us with a similar sense of direction, committment and devotion. And God need not be involved, unless he is simply love.

But a private moment, no less, can be the touch of grace, with such strength that it can change one’s perspective forever. I lean over my Grandmother’s grave and remember her strength. Fused into my memory cells, she’d garden with such force as to create her own weather system. This memory seems sacred, but not her grave. I feel the difference in remembering I am her kin.

It may not be a surprise to you that I feel the sacred most in perceiving those bristling interconnections in the living world, the living, quietly seen or unseen. A humble field maple will do it, with birds in the gnarly branches and fungi at the roots. Their Autumnal yellow glow takes my breath way and I am minded to sit for hours and just be present. It is a profound love, intense and moving. A mother fox licking her young, a tender petal opening to a bee, these are all things bright and beautiful. Light is important to me, I’ve been to the darkest of dark (I call this blog Seasonalight, light seeking). That the direct or diffused sunlight gives succour to life seems profound. I love the light around waterfalls. So do the mosses and the liverworts. There are also also the green rays at sunset, or during eclipses, the last and first moments of light bent and scattered through our thin atmosphere like moments of magic.

The sacred can also be a memory, an event marked at a place only by the truth-myths passed down through generations. From the eastern sunrise, I once arrived at the spectacular Hokianga Harbour, North Island, New Zealand, an area brimming with sacred Maori sites. Yellow dunes on the far side of the bay shone brightly sucked back into a baby-blue vacuum. An incoming tide from the Tasman sea swept the bay clean with crested wave upon wave, and variable oystercatchers flew low at blistering speed (I could just make out their uncanny calls). I followed a sign to a look-out point high above the harbour entrance and sat on a low wooden bench. I felt an immediate essence of something profound here. I was positioned somewhere on the edge of it all, and it felt like sanctuary. Later, I walked along nearby Omapere wharf and talked to a Maori man from the village who was fishing with a simple line and hook. I was just a tourist, yet he was so generous in conversation. He told me his Maori oral tradition, that legendary Polynesian explorer, Kupe, of the Matahourua canoe, made first Aotearoa landfall and lived here. The story goes that he named it Te Puna i te ao marama ~ the spring of the world of light ~ until in his old age he decided to return to his island birthplace, Hawaiki. The words he spoke as he left were, Hei konei ra i te puna i te ao marama, ka hoki nei ahau, e kore ano e hokianga-nui mai  ~ this the spring of the world of light, I shall not come back here again ~ and so, granted Hokianga its name.

The vessel of the sacred contains a good measure of vulnerability. Maybe this is an essential tension that drives us to protect. Great sacrilege occurred at Hokianga, long after Kupe’s departure, against the endemic and the Maori. The mighty kauri trees, like the blue whales of the world’s forests, were wrenched from inland Waipoua and floated down the river for milling and global export, mainly by the hands of Pakeha (non-natives). Unlike the Maori, who would take chosen trees with a reverence, for canoe-building, the Pakeha took nearly all. And without the kauri, large parts of the forest died and many endemic species lost forever. What was left was turned over to dairy, and again those products exported globally from the Harbour. To destroy the interconnections between living things is to destroy the most sacred ~ life. Thankfully, another Pakeha, William Roy McGregor, professor of Zoology, successfully campaigned to end logging of the Waipoua Forest in 1952 and created the Waipoua Forest Sanctuary. The sanctuary is still weak from attack, with Kauri Die-back disease laying claim to regenerating forest, and climate change will be having its effect. Let’s hope this small part of a once vast, ancient forest recovers to it’s truest dynamic state of being, given full protection and time.

Unlike the great Kupe, perhaps, I’ll return to Hokianga again one day. Modern technology makes it easier for me, though I’ll have to watch those emissions (always somekind of price to make such returns). The harbour and surrounds are a wealth of flora and fauna and, until then, it will be the distant sounds of the oystercatchers, torea-pango, that will remain in my memory as symbol of the sacredness of that place. If I am quiet enough, I can still hear the sacred, right now in my head.

 

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Love, in measures.

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Photo by me.

I retweeted a generic meme on my twitter timeline recently, rare for me, caught before it was lost to the bottomless void beneath my screen… “Measure your life in love” ~ RENT, it said.

I had been pondering about how we measure love, rent aside.

Can love only be measured by actions? How far do words count, especially beyond the human world? Words are for human to human communication, although some other species will learn some spoken words. I think we are generally very poor at understanding their languages, though I would encourage all to try.

Picture this. I may stand in a wood beneath the canopy-glo on a sunny day and speak outloud, in my English, that I love this wood. I don’t need to shout, mindful not to disturb others. This is not my home. I would not impose, uninvited, by being intentionally loud. The sounds gently echo back from the tree trunks, through my head and into my brain cells. I am telling myself that I love the wood, and it seems to work as an affirmation. That maybe of some value to me. But what about the community of individuals of the woodland realm? Do they respond? Are the trees, the birds, the reptiles, the soil amoebas and the hyphae responding to being told they are loved?

We now know trees are sentient, but I am uncertain, spirituality aside, if they really understand exactly what I am saying. There are more humans than not, who wouldn’t understand what I am saying. So, maybe, I think these words do not matter so much…

Now that my love is affirmed, what about actions? In making moral judgements, emotions and rationale (verbalised, either internally or externally), motivate us to act. If I were to protect those trees, understorey and all dependent life from a bulldozer, to educate people to respect the woodland as community, to fence it from deer overgrazing, to leave woody debris for roots to gain nutrients, to water it in drought, would they understand those actions I take, rooted in my love for them? Still, I am unsure. Most Westerners might consider there’s no consciousness in a wood. Perhaps, to remain open-minded…

I might, of course, be incorrect in suggesting the wood be fenced, for example, as such an action might restrict the passage of individuals, granivores, to and from their home. This is something I need to investigate first, to be sure that prior evidence is weighted in my decision making. I might be damaging the wood in the name of love, so I need to double check. This is why we need to be consequentialist in our understanding. Evidence is needed to support our actions, to guide us to a likely outcome, but, this also is rooted in love. It is a loving thing to do.

So, actions rooted in love can be empirically measured as love.

Next, go back to those words. “I love this wood”. How do actions compare to strength of feeling, or words? I am highly motivated, morally, to protect this wood. To protect it is the right thing to do. The voracity of my actions are measurable not in how loud I shout about it, but in how good I am at researching and implementing the best possible action to take. A good photo of this same wood, or a painting, or a poem, may help me to strengthen that affection of the real community they represent. I may also tweet about that love. Others may read what I tweet and discuss with friends and family. I have read the conservation evidence written by others, of the good (or bad), of certain actions compared with others. I try to look for a consensus. I may not get things right every time. But still, the love can be measured, in the protection of that wood, from all the words communicated to me, the words I affirm to myself and extend to others, the actions I take and the results.

So, I can’t find any real divide between love’s actions and words, at least when they are genuine. Maybe, I knew this all along. But I had to check.

Love’s actions and words, like everything else I try to tease apart, are connected. More, it is similar for all species that communicate in some way, via sound, vibration, chemicals and touch and other methods we may not yet be aware. This is intrinsically fluminism. Actions and communications ~ a flow between all individual entities for ‘good’, from within to without. Fluminism is a very powerful form of love.

In conclusion, I think we can measure all life in love and love by life in its diversity and abundance, breadth and depth. Love-life. Life-love.

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Notes on companionate love.

 

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In losing companionate love, it seems the understanding sharpens…

(I might add or take away)

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There are no crashing waves, as when one is falling into love. Instead, there are deep oceans trenches of life-love.

This is a creative force ~ life enhancing, forged in those salty depths. There is a creativity of each other, and in the union. We share, we glow, bioluminescence under pressure and at depth.

Sharing of one’s life, daily, is a work of transcendence above selfishness and self centredness. Each one of us must remain in tact, so there is no completion of ourselves. But there is a sum greater than ourselves.

Potentialities of the individual shine around the other, when both would otherwise remain unseen. Kindness and empathy towards each other may spill over to community, in the spirit of agape.

There are daily deeds, daily communions, of sorrow and of joy. There are exothermic moments, when one absorbs the heat of the other, where one absorbs the anger of the other. There is reciprocity, especially in laughter.

Love gives life meaning, but not a particular meaning ~ rich hydrothermal vents of ingenuity and succour.

There is porosity. And there is adhesion. Touch is essential, daily. More than daily.

Companionate love finds connection in incremental expansions, like cryptic hyphae exchanging signals in deep ocean sediments.

Like the prevailing current, we each are the fetch of one another’s skin. There still can be passion. Reunions.

We share an outward glance from internal seeing.

There will be the quietest moments. Stillness. There is tenderness.

And then there is grief. For one or the other.

There are times when love recedes, an ebb, when hurt and insult is felt in ways that one’s own wellbeing is harmed. Sometimes, the deepest love leaves us.

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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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