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A Growers diary from 2018

My 2018 season on the farm began with rain and lots of it. I had vivid dreams about the irrigation pond at the back of my caravan slowly filling my home while I slept.

The rain and the cold delayed the planting of crops and meant our two acres of asparagus lay dormant. We took advantage of the heavily sodden ground to dig docks out of the first acre of asparagus. We hoped to see spring soon.

Spring came with the first two swallows. It was a very short spring. The trees all blossomed and then greened in unison; the different shades of fresh greens were really beautiful. The asparagus responded with a bumper harvest over a month and a half. Some days we took 100-200 kg a day from the two fields. Spring flipped to summer very quickly.

We loved summer’s first month. We could plant whenever we wanted, not having to worry about sodden ground anymore. The seedlings responded well to the damp earth and constant sun. Then we started to miss the rains. I threw up while weeding the parsnip field. We began to really notice how hot it was. We missed breezes. We became obsessed with weather reports. The rains always seemed to miss us. The ground hardened. The irrigation ponds shrank.

A tame jackdaw named Morgana became part of the team. Driven into someone’s kitchen by hunger and thirst. We fed her by hand and she’d dosed with me in the hotbox that was my caravan during lunch. Sometimes we had 2-hour siestas to get through the hottest part of the day. We’d never needed siestas the 2 previous years I’d worked on the farm.

The summer continued. The grass browned. The crops suffered. We planted cabbages, kale and broccoli into sand. The soil blew off the fields into our eyes. I had to wear glasses to protect mine, which became red and itchy, my eyesight so blurred I couldn’t see properly. We drained both ponds. That had never happened in my time there or during the grower’s 16 years producing crops. We prayed for rain. It didn’t come.

The crops started wilted. Some started dying. We became desperate. We started taking water from the river. Bringing it back up to the farm in a water tanker. We fed our wilting crops sparingly through 120-metre-long irrigation pipes. We realised the true value of water. We we’re thankful then for that wet cold spring, which filled our rivers so they still ran during the drought. The rains that had kept local reservoirs full enough, so we could still water tunnel crops with mains water.

The river kept our crops alive. We heard other farms weren’t so lucky, losing whole plantings of crops twice over.

Rain finally came. We drank the 50 ml caught in the rain gauge with champagne I had saved for a special occasion. The rain had some effect, most of all on our morale, which had been waning as the summer continued. But we still needed to take from the river to truly feed the crops.

The news spoke of UK crops failing and lettuce was sailed across the Atlantic. Brexit talks continued with no definite or security.

The crops managed to survive through our sheer force of will and luck. Luck that someone had leant us that tanker; luck that the rivers and reservoirs still had enough water for us to feed our crops with. We were tired from the effort. I thought about it all and what it meant if that luck ran out.

My 6 month season ended. I felt emotionally and physically battered. I’d thought we’d had time. I thought we’d change it before it all happened; before the climate truly broke down. Then I, a Western, got a taste of how the other half of the planet lives, the half that truly knows what climate change means. Food insecurity. I saw what that looked and felt like. It was terrifying to contemplate what happens when the luck run out. I thanked whatever’s up there for the March rains which filled our pond, reservoir and rivers. Do we hope to based our food security on the luck of the weather? Because we can’t be certain about how the weather behaves anymore. 2018 was a year of ice and fire, neither of which we were ready for; I know I wasn’t.

I have a sadness in me I didn’t have before this year and before this season. It’s the sadness that comes from dead hope. From truly feeling what dying, sterilised earth feels like and that we are heading for big, uncomfortable changes.

From my comfortable position as a Westerner I’ve cared about the environment almost in the way you care for a pet. I got upset about it, signed petitions about plastic in the oceans and the extinction of species, tried to champion the natural world through my art and chose to work in organic farming. But it was only this year that I realised that I’M in danger. My little taste of food insecurity, which must be laughably small in comparison to what African or Middle Eastern farmers experience, made me realise how little we are ready for the dramatic breakdowns in the status quo of our weather. Which are going to happen. This was a year of ice and fire; the Beast from the East to The Grapes of Wrath.

I still carry this sadness in me. It pops up regularly; snatches away happy moments; the pointed end of the stick bursting my optimistic bubble. I guess that’s why I wanted to write this for Extinction Rebellion, because they acknowledge this sadness, this dire experience that we are apathetically allowing to happen, but they are showing such energy in response to it. They speak common sense and they speak it loudly so we can all hear and maybe have enough time to change. They call up the utter nonsense and self-interest that has infested out politics and our systems and they inspire me to continue.

Next year I will still be growing crops; my partner and I will be renting a market garden from the start of 2019 and we plan to incorporate all kinds of plants and habitats to benefit the wildlife which shares the land, but I now know that these actions also benefit me, that protecting nature isn’t an act of sacrifice or parenthood, but one that means I too can keep living on this earth.

Written by Rebecca Mackay

Extinction Rebellion – Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night

On the 31st October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. The awareness of this action’s long-term significance may have escaped him at the time. With swathes of people turning against the Catholic Church, which had been the most powerful force in Europe for countless years, any doubts about its effect cannot have lasted long.

On the 31st of December 2018, Extinction Rebellion issued a “Declaration of Rebellion” against the British Government. The event was passionate and inspiring. One hopes it will have a similarly galvanising effect as Luther’s hammers had upon the Church. Indeed, it will need to if we are to survive the ecocide standing before us.

This time of year has a feeling of rebellion. The haze of Summer, which somehow seeps well into September, starts to lift. Suddenly we are plunged into darkness and our clocks go back. An extra hour’s sleep never feels quite enough. Halloween is a time for Trick or Treat – far more of an American tradition than a British one. There’s something anarchic about the whole idea that I find appealing – the act of sanctioned, carnivalesque begging. Is giving sweets to strangers paying homage to that sense of hospitality we fear losing, or are we symbolically paying tribute to monsters we have no way of controlling?

Imagine if this practice happened constantly throughout the year? The Trick aspect of Trick or Treat is presented as a last resort if children do not get the treats they want. But really Trick is more of a word for the whole masquerade of Halloween, and its anti-authoritarian semblances, for dressing up as ghouls and ghosts. Halloween is about joyful anonymity through masquerade. It feels in some sense like an age-old protest. Or at least an exorcism of bad spirits.  

Costume parties run into November. And in Britain unlike the US we have Guy Fawkes Night. When I was a child, it always struck me as unpleasant to celebrate someone’s execution with bonfires and burning effigies. It took an imagination like Alan Moore’s to reinvent the Guy Fawkes imagery as an act of rebellion against a future British fascist state in his comic V for Vendetta to symbolically spin something out of Guy Fawkes’ vengeance at years of smouldering mannequins. On the night of the 3rd November, I sat in a plush London cinema watching the film version; a tear ran down my cheek at the inhumanity and the cruelty the film portrays. The message is very much that a certain ruthlessness, based on revenge, is if not necessary then at least inevitable for a mass popular uprising. The lead characters “V” and “Evie Hammond” delight in gleeful destruction – art as political violence.

In some senses, the Extinction Rebellion is similar – more subtle and much more forgiving than the swashbuckling anarchist of the aforementioned tale. Rather than taking pleasure in chaos, Extinction Rebellion presupposes that worldwide chaos is already occurring. Waking people up to their fate involves not blaming or taking out our anger on those who stand against us: the government and big business. Their resistance involves presenting us with half measures to global warming: they cannot face up to destruction, they will waver until the last minute to Midnight. It is only through grieving the extinction that is presently happening that we can hope to change the status quo. People do not know what they have until it is gone. Sadness is powerful and also political. Meanwhile, we have to be creative and artistic against a backdrop of violence and destruction. We have to speak truth to the emotions that lay in the realm beyond a climate apocalypse: both a collective mourning for what we are losing and a collective joy in what we are building anew.

To those willing to look into the abyss

By Justine Huxley of stethelburgas.org

It seems we have entered a new phase in our journey of self-destruction, and the ecological and social collapse we have suspected to be on the horizon is now coming to meet us.

Protecting ourselves from hopelessness no longer serves us.  As many enlightened activists have told us (such as Scilla Elworthy, nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize), only if we walk towards the  darkness and not away from it, can we be transformed and be of real service to others or the world.

I cannot shake off the image of an individual facing a life-threatening illness.  Confronted with a potentially terminal diagnosis, making rapid outer changes in lifestyle is immediate, driven by the determination to live.  But surrendering to the real possibility of death is behind the deeper change – change which could be viewed through the lens of reconciliation.  Reconciliation with our own mortality and with how our individual life has been lived often leads to reconciliation with our family, to making peace with our enemies, and to decisions – made with a sharply awakened consciousness – about which values to live by if time might be limited.

I’ve seen awe-inspiring change made by people in these situations.  I’ve seen people drop grudges and let go of fixed patterns overnight, in a way that seemed almost unbelievable to those around them.  I’ve seen people give up long-held defences and open to the beauty and spontaneity of life. It’s as if a secret reveals itself about what it means to be human.  The seriousness also catapults us beyond the limits of the physical body and into the journey of the soul. Something much bigger than our own individual life makes its presence felt – whether we call that God, or experience it through the power of human love and our existence in a web of  relationship with others.

All this happens when we are brave enough to go beyond denial, to embrace despair and be changed by it.  And miracles are possible in this space.

Sitting with this theme of reconciliation, I feel a call to reach inward – to ask my own heart how I can love more fearlessly – not just those close to me, but our whole human family and those around the world whose lives are already being torn apart.  How can I allow my heart to be broken by it all – by the beauty of what we are destroying, by the melody of a solitary blackbird, or by those pregnant moments before first light, as a dark winter night awakens into day. How can I live the knowledge that mystery is present even in the midst of what is falling apart?

I also feel a call to reach outwards –  to colleagues, activists and spiritual companions – to make space for retreat and discernment.  Not to give up on outer action which is critical, but to explore in parallel this inner work of reconciliation and see if we can source the resilience that comes only from being in touch with the depths.  How can we prepare honestly for what is coming? How can we act with integrity, and keep acting from that place, even on the days when it all seems futile?  How can we meet this with the full depth of our spirituality – with both the ferocious passion and the ruthless inner detachment that real service demands?

To those willing to look into the abyss – may our love and connection with each other and with Earth make this a time of meaning –  and sustain us in the times to come.

The truth behind Antarctica’s fast-melting ice

By Kate Goldstone

Resources:

 

Introduction

Antarctica, which has long been thought to be relatively safe from vast ice melts, has proved us wrong. It’s actually in just as much trouble as the Arctic.

Plenty of people believed the ice on Antarctica wouldn’t melt as fast as the Arctic. Then, in April 2017, scientists claimed Antarctica’s ice might actually be melting a lot faster than anyone predicted. It matters because Antarctica is home to 90% of the world’s ice. If it keeps melting this quickly, and the continent’s massive ice sheets go, we’re looking at profound worldwide effects including mass flooding.

What’s going on, and is the trend continuing? Here’s what you need to know.

 

How Arctic and Antarctic sea ice differ

Because the Arctic and Antarctics’ geography is different, so is their ice. The Arctic ocean is partly enclosed, mostly surrounded by land. Its ice is less mobile and floes tend to clump together into thick ridges. Ridge ice has a longer life cycle and stays frozen for longer. The region is home to 5.8 million square miles of sea ice in winter, reducing to roughly 2.7 million square miles by the end of the summer.

The Antarctic is totally different. Made up of land surrounded by ocean, the sea ice there moves freely and drifts faster. There are fewer ice ridges as a result, and the lack of a land boundary to the north means the ice naturally floats northwards into warmer waters before melting. Winter sees about 6.9 million square miles of Antarctic ocean covered in sea ice, but by the end of the summer there are only around 1.1 million square miles of it left.

 

Clear warnings in 2017

April 2017 saw the first reports of Antarctica’s ice melting faster than previously predicted, thanks to the discovery of a network of lakes and streams under the continent’s ice shelves which created a destabilising influence on the ice above. The study was published in the journal Nature and revealed the process is taking place in areas where scientists didn’t think there was any liquid water. As global temperatures keep rising, the speed of the damage can only increase. The team examined satellite images dating as far back as 1973 as well as aerial images snapped by military aircraft way back in the 1940s. And the results were a shocker – some of the streams flowed for 75 miles, and some of the lakes were several miles across.

A few months later in November 2017 a study examined the east Antarctic Totten ice shelf, finding it unexpectedly vulnerable to warming waters. And still governments failed to react, never mind act. March 2018 saw scientists announce more of the Totten Ice Shelf was floating than they’d predicted. Multiple different types of supporting evidence proved the point. Now it looks a lot like a certainty. If Larsen C and Totten melt, the world’s sea levels will rise as much as 5 metres. Totten could easily contribute a 3m sea level rise all on its own.

 

Another equally clear warning in 2018

In August 2018, more headline news surfaced about Antarctica’s ice. It appeared a couple of enormous glaciers to the east of the region had lost ice mass disturbingly quickly in the years since the millennium. The results hinted that forecasts for sea level rise this century will have to be revised upwards, but nobody knows exactly how much. While it’s obvious the ice in Antarctica is melting frighteningly quickly, the complex dependencies and inter-dependencies that make it happen aren’t at all clear.

So far most molten Antarctic ice has come from the west of the continent. The Antarctic Peninsula is under particular threat, reaching out into the ocean and exposed to warmer waters, and the Larsen C ice sheet, which famously cracked in 2017, is also to the west. East Antarctica has long been thought to be more stable, cut off from the planet’s weather systems by powerful spinning gales that stop the warmth getting anywhere near. On the other hand it’s so remote that scientists have spent decades guestimating what might happen instead of actually measuring. But they keep getting it wrong. In 2015 one piece of research hinted the region was putting on extra ice, not losing it, but closer examination revealed it was simply not true.

Even if Totten disappears, we probably won’t see a 5m rise by 2100. There’s such a lot we don’t know about the behaviour of Antarctic ice and the many factors a big melt depends on. It apparently takes hundreds of gigatonnes of ice to raise sea levels by just one millimetre, and Totten isn’t anywhere near that level… yet. But it might speed up, and we have no idea how fast the melting could ultimately become once we pass a tipping point, also unknown.

There are more unknowns around the effect of the geology underneath the continent, the shape of the bedrock itself. And the channels running from underneath the Totten link it to the ocean give warmer water the access it needs to potentially kick off a runaway melt.

Only one thing is clear. The original consensus was far too cautious. Now we know for sure Antarctica is losing ice mass hand over fist. It has been losing ice for years. And nobody knows where the tipping point is.

 

The effects of runaway sea level rises

The cities under the most threat from rising sea levels also happen to be amongst the biggest on the planet, the most financially, socially and culturally important. Alexandria in Africa, The Hague in Europe, Miami in North America and Rio de janiero in South America are all at risk, home to a total of 10 million people, almost all of whom would be displaced. Ten million migrants from just four cities… that’s hard to deal with. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg, if you’ll forgive the pun. On every continent, in every sea-facing country, we’d have to build vast amounts of new housing stock for migrants.

Cities don’t operate in isolation, either. Every drowned city means drowned transport networks, communications networks, power, utilities and food networks, all left under water permanently. Wildlife will suffer just as badly, forced out of natural habitats. It actually doesn’t bear thinking about… but it’s happening all the same. As UN environment chief Erik Solheim said before last year’s Bon conference, “[We] still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future.”

 

What are governments doing about Antarctic ice loss?

Antarctic ice melt is driven by climate change. Governments are not doing enough about climate change. All over the world those in power are still prevaricating, delaying, discussing and disagreeing while Rome burns. It’s our job to force them to act. Will you join us?

 

Greed trumps Need

The mindset of the Donald
is known to none but he,
allowing close around him 
only those who do agree,
that such ranting counts as wisdom
where the POTUS is concerned
where nothing now must stop him
from denying all we’ve learned.

That the climate is no longer
our kind supportive friend,
and the planet has a fever
in the blight of humankind,
where our atmosphere is warming 
with our growing fevered heat
and is likely to get rid of us
by the storms that we create.

Instead he treads a different path
where fascist seeds are sown,
by consorting so with despots
where brutality is the norm,
and all must heed the ruler’s word
or find themselves in cages,
with the protests of the people
that echo down the ages.

Where oil can have no limit
and coal must be fast burned
to create the wealth entitlement
we are told is ours to earn,
so we must extract and use it all
to make the stuff we need
which must go on forever
for this is the leader’s creed.

And the force that powers nature
must be to man entailed
lending truth to craze’d doctrines
that higher powers will prevail,
to stop sea levels rising
and the Arctic turning green
where our world goes on forever
supplying all we need.

Nothing may be mentioned
of all that threatens us
by those who stand around him
with smiles obsequious ,
as he signs away our living
uncaring of those who die
as our glorious planet
becomes cash based property.

Now the planet that we live on 
is now mere real estate
where business and trading
have all care displaced,
with debt the lot of many
in want and direst need
being told that shiny objects
will their children’s children feed.

Walk Gently

In response to the beautiful article by April GriefSong —  I would be so glad if this request from the earth might be heard, make music, anywhere it might, for the earth who whispered it tenderly in my ear, many years ago now:

Walk Gently

walk gently

with feet that listen tenderly

it is my body you mark with each step

know yourself by the feel of the air

as it breathes through the pores of your skin

it is my soul you breathe

in your lungs in your blood in your heart

watch the weather well

as you march through the heat that burns water dry

it is the dust of my skin you spit aside

and when the rains fall

take care

my muddy cheeks distort and slide

in between rain and sun

life takes root and grows

with a joy that veers toward ecstasy

come often

lest paths carved out over time disappear

life shoots up any place it can

certain small deaths are necessary

but walk gently

with feet that listen tenderly and give you strength

it is my body you mark with each step

it is my face beneath your feet at the summit

where the wind blows unhindered through your hair

Ann Moradian

April 15, 2009

Requiem for our planet

The planet that we live on
allowed our lives to be
until we chose to trash it
and call it property

fire was our first mistake
but warming were the flames
not knowing in our cleverness
we burned away our dreams

using fire we forced our land
behind a fence and wall
then fought hard for possession
of what was meant for all

then we created money
our busy’ness to allow
while destroying that very thing
on which our living drew

our population on the planet
was by pestilence unfazed
or wars that culled our numbers
and gods that made us crazed

now our world has had enough
and we must be got rid
we finally messed up our lease
and had eviction served

to be washed away by water
or fried by heated air
and poisoned by the fuels
we burned without a care

our planet has a fever
caused by humankind
and now can only cure itself
by leaving us behind