Revolutionary Gardening

October 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

the radishes are at ground level

the radishes are at ground level

For a long time it’s been too late for a happy ending in Syria. The longer this process continues, the less we can hope for.

How do you fight a monster without becoming a monster? How, particularly when the monster’s chief strategy is to make a monster of you? How, when the world’s most powerful storytellers depict you as a monster? How, when monsters hiding behind human facades walk by blindly as you are tortured, raped, humiliated, maimed, murdered?

I don’t really know. I’d welcome a reading list, if anyone has one.

I know this monster must be fought, even if we become monsters while fighting it. I know we must fight both internally and externally. I know the greater and lesser jihads must be fought simultaneously.

At some point, somehow, this stage will be replaced by another. Most probably that stage like this one will be bumbled through blindly. Human beings seldom or never achieve control over their larger social movements. Still, it’s pleasant to imagine that Syrians will be able to defuse the sectarian tensions which have existed at least since ibn Taymiyyeh, which were immeasurably exacerbated by Sykes-Picot and the French occupation’s construction of an ‘army of minorities’, and then set afire by Assad’s gang and its allies. It’s good to hope too that a new constitution will guard against any party, clique or ideological police imposing its straitjacket on the plural people.

Beyond religion and politics, environmental factors should also be taken into account.

It’s interesting to note that Jared Diamond’s three factors of civilisational collapse (deforestation, soil erosion, water management problems) have been present in Syria since late Ottoman times, and rampant in the last couple of decades. People my age who grew up in Damascus remember that in their childhoods the Ghouta still consisted of orchards and streams, that summer temperatures almost never climbed above the mid to high thirties. You don’t have to be my age to remember the Barada as an actual river, rather than a layer of concrete and a few stinking pools. Wasn’t Damascus the city the Prophet refused to enter, fearing to sin by imagining himself prematurely in paradise? The dicatorship’s corruption (anyone with connections or money could build in the green zone) put paid to that. Stupidly grand development schemes repeated the pattern all over the country (Lake Assad, like Lake Nasser, was an environmental and social disaster – see Omar Amiralay’s film A Flood in Ba‘ath Land – a wonderful exercise in quiet irony). People’s lack of control over the public space meant they were alienated from it, and threw black plastic bags all over it (this explains the discrepancy between people’s spotlessly clean homes and the filth in the streets outside). Over the decade before the revolution erupted, a million climate change refugees, according to the UN, left the desertifying north east for the impoverished outskirts of Dera’a, Homs, Damascus and Aleppo. This, combined with the effects of Bashaar’s crony capitalism, provides the backdrop to the uprising. The revolutions to the west, and the monster’s extreme violence, provided the spark.

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The global food waste scandal

January 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

A new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers estimates that globally 30-50% of food is wasted. (Download the report.). In the following video Trstram Stuart, author of the 2009 book, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, tackles the subject. Writing in the Financial Times Tristram quoted Lord Haskins, then one of the chief advisers to the government on food and farming, as estimating that 70% of food produced in Britain is wasted. This is obviously a striking example of market efficiency.

To the Last Drop

June 23, 2011 § 1 Comment

From Al Jazeera‘s excellent Witness series:

The small town of Fort Chipewyan in northern Alberta is facing the consequences of being the first to witness the impact of the Tar Sands project, which may be the tipping point for oil development in Canada. The local community has experienced a spike in cancer cases and dire studies have revealed the true consequences of “dirty oil”.

Gripped in a Faustian pact with the American energy consumer, the Canadian government is doing everything it can to protect the dirtiest oil project ever known. In the following account, filmmaker Tom Radford describes witnessing a David and Goliath struggle.

Below the fold you can also watch Dirty Oil, the 2009 documentary on the Alberta tar sands directed by Leslie Iwerks.

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Addicted to Risk

January 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

“How else to describe this, but as a form of mass insanity. Just when we know we need to be learning to live on the surface of our planet, off the power of sun, wind and waves; we are frantically digging to get at the dirtiest, highest emitting stuff imaginable…”

The brilliant Naomi Klein delivered this TED talk at on December 8, 2010, in Washington, DC. (A transcript of her speech is to be found below the fold).

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A World Without Water

October 15, 2010 § 1 Comment

From El Alto to Cochabamba, Detroit to Dar Es Salaam, A World Without Water documents the human costs of water privatisation and the systemic denial of access to safe drinking water through its commodification. According to the World Health Organisation, 1.1 billion people has no access to any type of improved drinking source of water, 2.6 billion people lack even a simple ‘improved’ latrine, and, as a direct consequence, 1.6 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (90% of these are children under 5).

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Playing with Water

October 15, 2010 § 2 Comments

Susya toilet under demolition order by the Israeli army (Amnesty International, “TROUBLED WATERS – PALESTINIANS DENIED FAIR ACCESS TO WATER”, p.2 )

Water in Israel is probably one of the most blatant faces of apartheid. As reports like the Amnesty International report of 2009, “Troubled Waters” and the B’tselem website coverage of the issue, “The Water Crisis” show us,  Israel’s resources are invested in water theft/access denial from Palestinians. But water in Israel is not just a substance of life, for those who can’t have it, it’s a tradable commodity, for those who’ll never miss it.

Like a Fish in National Waters

Water resources in Israel are all state-owned. Naturally- as is usually the case within the militaristic, nationalistic Israel- the state will allocate these resources to serve its “national needs”. Water theft is a good example of “negative” policy, which is so obviously discriminatory, violent and inexcusable, that the only way to sell it to the public is not to mention it at all. True to form, when cave- dwelling Palestinians are kicked out of their caves and their harvesting canisters (on the cave roof?) are destroyed [“Troubled Waters”, p.2], there’s no Israeli media around to record it, spin it and dish it. “Positive” policy, however, is always easy to sell. After all, we “dried the swamps and made the wilderness bloom”, and the environmental devastation of swamp drying still isn’t being taught in schools.

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The Other Debt Crisis: Climate Debt

October 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

With the Cancun UN climate conference only weeks away now, the brilliant Avi Lewis travels to Bolivia to explore the country’s climate crusade from the inside on this edition of Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines.

The climate crisis in Bolivia is not a headline or an abstraction – it is playing out in people’s lives in real time. Melting glaciers are threatening the water supply of the country’s two biggest cities. Increasing droughts and floods are playing havoc with agriculture. So it is no surprise that in climate negotiations, Bolivia is emerging as a leader in the global south – advancing both radical solutions and analysis that make rich countries distinctly nervous.

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