Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Notes from Against the Grain by Richard Manning

When I read books of importance to me, not only do I underline the important passages, but I take notes in the margins, writing key words and phrases that I want to be able to come back to and use in my teachings of Environmental Sustainability and Justice.
By putting these notes in a blog post I have access to them when I am travelling and can easily search by keywords to find the page numbers I want to reexplore and pull quotes from.
Best of all, by making my notes public, I might be able to help others who are researching these topics and using this book find the section of the book they are looking for!

Here goes:

Against the Grain
By Richard Manning
Notes by T.H. Culhane

recruit bears and birds
We know more than we think we do. Experiments have shown that normal people, given the whiff of a T-shirt, can tell whether it was worn by a man or a woman, even have a sense of whether the wearer was attractive. How much of this have we sublimated? What would it be like to meet other humans and smell, say, anger, arousal, as I am sur my dogs do? p. 5
The girl in Borneo

Unlearning. “My main job is to teach you that you know a lot more than you think you know.” p. 7
This book is not just about agriculture, but about the fundamental dehumanization that occurred with agriculture. We can't really conceive of what huans lost wth the process of civilization, with agriculture, until we ask what human nature is.
Google enhanced reading. Performance art.
“Mann ist was mann isst.”
Meat protein, however, would not do the job alone, because meat lacks some necessary nutrients and is an inefficient way to satisfy all of a body's carbohydrate needs. Newfound priority on information, beginning of information age. p. 13... division of labor, extra burden on women.
Routine consumption of toxic plants.
Render harmless by cooking... some mistakes are fatal.
Synesthesia... there is a parallel universe, which is Dreamtime; our senses call it into existence and make it into the real world in which we live. p. 14.
We achieved this range without agriculture. Found bound us together.
There was no way to store the meat, no way for an individual to accumulate wealth, so communal feasting became the payoff for social organization.
Bogman Denmark... stomach contained remnants of sixty different species of plants: not the sum total of the range of his diet, merely the range from a day or so, what happened to be ripe or on hand at the moment. Multiply that number through the seasons and across the animal kingdom and some appreciation or that human's catalogue of sensual clues begins to accrue. Learning to live off hundreds of species of plants and animals required an attention to color, light, shape and motion that must have bordered on obsession. No wonder we began painting in such fine detail so early in the course of human events. It is as if we were brimming with observation and had to let it all out. The way we preserved our species during our formative years not only made us hunters and gatherers, but painters, singers, and poets, all of the essential sensuality o these arts winding back to food and sex.
Letters to a young Poet...
“Physical pleasure is a sensual experience no different from pure seeing or the pure sensation with which a fine fruit fills the tongue; it is a great unending experience, which is given us, a knowing of the world, the fullness and the glory of all knowing. And not our acceptance of it is bad; the bad thing is that most people misuse and squander this experience and apply it as a stimulant at the tired spots of their lives and as distraction instead of a rallying toward exalted moments. Men have made even eating into something else: want on the one hand, superfluity upon the other, have dimmed the distinctness of this need, and all the deep, simple necessities in which life renews itself have become similarly dulled. But the individual can clarify them for himself and live them clearly (and if not the individual, who is too dependent, then at least the solitary man). He can remember that an beauty in animals and plants is a quiet enduring form of love and longing, and he can see animals, as he sees plants, patiently and willingly uniting and increasing and growing, not out of physical delight, not out of physical suffering, but bowing to necessities that are greater than Pleasure and pain and more powerful than win and withstanding. O that man might take this secret, of which the world is full even to its littlest things, more humbly to himself and bear it, endure it,more seriously and feel how terribly difficult it is instead of taking it lightly. That he might be more reverent toward his fruitfulness, which is but one, whether it seems mental or physical; for intellectual creation too springs from the physical, is of one nature with it and only like a gentler, more ecstatic and more everlasting repetition of physical delight. "The thought of being creator, of procreating & of making" is nothing without its continuous great confirmation and realization in the world, nothing without the thousandfold concordance from things and animals--and enjoyment of it is so indescribably beautiful and rich only because it is fun of inherited memories of the begetting and the bearing of millions. In one creative thought a thousand forgotten nights of love revive, filling it with sublimity and exaltation And those who come together in the night and are entwined in rocking delight do an earnest work and gather sweetnesses, gather depth and strength for the song of some coming poet, who will arise to speak of ecstasies beyond telling. And they call up the future; and though they err and embrace blindly, the future comes all the same, a new human being rises up, and on the ground of that chance which here seems consummated, awakes the law by which a resistant vigorous seed forces its way through to the egg-cell that moves open toward it. Do not be bewildered by the surfaces; in the depths all becomes law. And those who live the secret wrong and badly (and they are very many), lose it only for themselves and still hand it on, like a sealed letter, without knowing it. And do not be confused by the multiplicity of names and the complexity of cases. Perhaps over all there is a great motherhood, as common longing. The beauty of the virgin, a being that (as you so beautifully say) "has not yet achieved anything," is motherhood that begins to sense itself and to prepare, anxious and yearning. And the mother's beauty is ministering motherhood, and in the old woman there is a great remembering. And even in the man there is motherhood, it seems to me, physical and spiritual; his procreating is also a kind of giving birth, and giving birth it is when he creates out of inmost fullness. And perhaps the sexes are more related than we think, and the great renewal of the world will perhaps consist in this, that man and maid, freed of all false feelings and reluctances, will seek each other not as opposites, but as brother and sister, as neighbors, and win come together as human beings, in order simply, seriously and patiently to bear in common the difficult sex that has been laid upon them.
But everything that may some day be possible to many the solitary man can now prepare and build with his hands, that err less. Therefore, dear sir, love your solitude and bear with sweet-sounding lamentation the suffering it causes you For those who are near you are far, you say, and that shows it is beginning to grow wide about you. And when what is near you is far, then your distance is already among the stars and very large; rejoice in your growth, in which you naturally can take no one with you, and be kind to those who remain behind, and be sure and calm before them and do not torment them with your doubts and do not frighten them with Your confidence or joy, which they could not understand. Seek yourself some sort of simple and loyal community with them, which need not necessarily change as you yourself become different and again different; love in them life in an unfamiliar form and be considerate of aging people, who fear that being-alone in which you trust. Avoid contributing material to the drama that is always stretched taut between parents and children; it uses up much of the children's energy and consumes the love of their elders, which is effective and warming even if it does not comprehend. Ask no advice from them and count upon no understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance and trust that in this lore there is a strength and a blessing, out beyond which you do not have to step in order to go very far! “

Stephen Jay Gould just so stories. Fun. Farming is not. “The real problem, then, is not to explain why some people were slow to adopt agriculture, by why anybody took it up at all..” p. 23 Colin Tudge.
4 crops = 2/3 of human nutrition. Wheat, rice, corn, potatoes.
A few hundred species have parts readily edible.
Agriculture was simply opportunism.
Plains indians almost exclusively off meat.
Agriculture allowed them to occupy key hunting areas during lean times.
The ready availability of Cat Chow makes Tabby songbird's mot lethal suburban predator, not skunks and other wild predators who must move oven when pickings get thin.
p. 26
Einkhorn, Emmer, barley 9,600 ears.
The rachis, seeds that stick to the head
Catastrophe reset biological clock.
Annuals don't need to persist, to set deep roots. Rather they invest their resources in building large,easily detached, portable,long-lasting seeds ready to exploit the next sweeping catastrophe. One these colonizers gain a foothold and provide cover, shade and organic matter in the soil, a more poermanent community of plants dominated by perennials develops. There is a very narrow range of colonizing plants designed by evolution to move in and restart the biological clock ater catastrophe.
p. 28
Investing energy in seed doesn't pay off in mature community.
Distrubed sites.
Cottonwoods ren't so much water-loving as disturbance loving.
Sunflowers. Floodplain weeds, wild gourds, sunflowers and chenopods.
Settlement before agriculture, sedentism and art... sedentism – the radical human experiment with staying put – made agriculture possible, and not vice versa. p. 30
Agriculture did not arise from need but from relative abundance. Leisure to experiment.
Noah's flood p. 31, Genesis.
Midas' grave full of grain, not gold, p. 33.
Poverty from agriculture... wealth vs. abundance
Agriculture created poverty
Mounds Cahokia
Compare lives by comparing skeletons. Farmers smaller. Implications for aquaculture.. The fish moved, Just beginning to regain stature. Food of the poor, By moving about and taking food from a variety of niches, they balanced one locale's deficiencies against anothers excesses . This is also true for the early sedentarycities that relied on seafood. They didn't move, but the fish did, bringing with them minerals from a wide range of places. Biodiversity diet, Every locale's soil and water deficient in one mineral. p. 35.

Tooth decay. Soft foods wean children faster. Deformities and rotten teach.
California paleo gatherers “so healthy is is somewhat discouraging to work with them”
Disease from bad diet.
Slavery, poverty, oppression.
Biology and evolution don't care very much about quality of life.
What counts is persistence, endurance.
P 37
Goats cut a deal. Smaller more diseased goats.
Weeds. Chenopods adapted to catastrophes. Coalitions form.
Poverty is a direct result of cultural evolution
Malaria is an agricultural disease. P 40
Harsh life for masses. But wealthy clearly better off.
We have no clear examples of colonized huter gatherers who willingly, peacefully converted to farming. Most went as slaves; most were dragged kicking and screaming or ust plain died.
Nobody peacefully converted to agriculture. The plants and animals tamed us.
Green killing green.
p. 43
How powerful a coevolved coalition of exotics.
We have asked why agriculture arose I the first place, but we must also ask why this isolated experiment spread across the planet to the lands of nonagricultural peoples who could see it coming and who, having had plenty of contact with agricultural societies, ought to have known enough to avoid it like th plague it was.
Avoid it like the plauge
Farming spread by genocide.
Sugar tolerant digestive systems. p. 53.
The Gods wanted slaves and addicted us. Senegambia.
Wheat a big invention.. horse collar. Trinity wheat cattle and horses.
Without the payback, Weeds on a relegated to floodplains or edges of forest fires.
Biblical plagues p 56
Catastrophe agricultures evolved coalitions
virgin soil epidemics.
'Smallpox from God” Winthrop massachusetts bay colony.
Warfare and conquest = agriculture.
Mississipi valley Indians gave us farming corn to hunt when horses came.
P 60
Deliberate policy of exterminating bison 70 million to less than 50.
Horses a weed among animals so abundant.
Horses cheap in new world, expensive in Europe.
Catastrophic agriculture p. 62
5000 cattle to 48 million.
The Neo Europes (p. 63).
Pollinated by honeybees-- European crops and weeds, coevolution, allowing certain native species to outcompete others.

Kentucky Blue Grass from Europe … seeding to promote conquest p. 64.
Full of weed seed.
Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: “It did not occur to any white settler (pakeha) for decades and decades that spilling and strewing alien organism into an ecosystem can be like lighting a candle in order to lessen the gloom in a powder magazine.” p. 64. Rats and smallpox botaical equivalent.

Europan colonization was biological warfare.
63% non native
p. 655
Evolution fails to honor “success and failure”.
Famine is a creation of farming. p. 68
90/100 Difficult to see agriculture as antidote to hunger.
Wheat, 80 million dead. Great Leap forward p70

Not insufficient food but a lack of “entitlement”. Poverty is Africa's chief product.
Catastrophic Agriculture:
Maize 1, Potato 4 p. 73
A classic case of agricultural success prefiguring doom.
English: French: Potato “only fit for the Irish”. Poisonous p. 75
Potato promotes “idleness, improvidence and moral deviations”
Poor ate bread... poor diet based wholly on grain.
No fork or plate required... was for the poor. Spoiled spuds tossed to hogs
Rain tolerant potato.. 5-6 lb /day.
Kept one fingernail long.
Sugar blues p. 81
Famine Poverty and Disease are useful institutions. Slaves... Sugar required a labor intensive industrial refining that made it ery much the first processed food, processed by slaves.
Not cuisine but calories.
Sugar and rum as manacles p. 83.
Why tea is bitter... so you need sugar with it.
Sugar “tea with your sugar sir?”
James, pudding and treacles
IT COMES AT NIGHT Pretty Maids from Pandemonium
The purpose of humanity: cheap labor p. 83

Soil depletion should be impossible … expansion of the arable land base (p. 86).
Evans: Divides time by billions of people. Human culture ½ way.
Perennial.. the land bank.
Speculation leads to the dust bowl, institutional memory is short. Profit aids amnesia.
Draft animal feed land. p. 91
Because of uneven adoption
Bias toward catastrophe
Chewing up landscapes it had once been unable to digest
Clever use of hybrid vigor – industrialisation as species... directed by memes. Self pollinators, Biological imperialism,”Green Revolutio = Age of Dwarfs”. p. 92
Norman Borlaug, dwarf varieties
1970s 25% wheat, 1975 40%, 2000 70%
Rice 1980 40%, 1990 74%
20 bushels to 130 bushels

Harvest index. 3 crops at the expense of all others. Prices down, Efficiency up.
Fencerow to fencerow.. Earl Butz, Nixon constroversial secretary of agriclture. 1970S Plowe encerow to fencerow, I witessed in Illinois as a child.

p. 95

Dust bowl.
Farmers are the conduits, not recipients of subsidies.
3 grain crops for more than 2/3rd nutrition
Per capita gain 3x higher.
Fattened on Grain, Containment operations.
“Waste” is a term unique to industrial thinking. 76% beef from feedlots onfinement operations.
85% cropland = corn, soybean, wheat, hay.
“Dead one”
Nitrous Oxide = greenhouse gas.
Primay cause of water problems (p 99)
Corn second leading user of irrigation water.

Sheds and greenhouses, p. 107
Too cheap to conserve.
Nitrogen is cheap insurance p. 113
Respond to market signals. Expecting farmers to respond to market signals now is a bit like expecting an alcoholic to order the herbal tea at an open bar. This is the legacy of subsidy. A deep-seated irrationality that ignores cause and effect. A system that has taken on a logic of its own... a sort of arms race. No single set of market solutions will turn that system around.

Grainfed livestock are livestock factories.
Live, thrive without grain. The less cereal I eat the better I feel, a reflection of my body's genetic legacy set during a couple of million formative years as hunter gatherers.” p. 120 (ME TOO!).
Grain invades body.

False face on the land. The mess in our guts
, the juie of our politics. Corn syrup. Thomas Jefferson. p. 124. Designed to give us Independence. Invasion of the body snatchers.
Lincoln Homestead act. Can see the truth iin the negative. Farming is a pyramid.
p. 125

A modern enclosure act. Retool the federal system. Adreas, CEO of ADM 2 things “eporting American agircultural products, keeping farmers on farms, conserving topsoil. “ Firsta was pursued at expense of other two.

Welfare state, countryside is a factory. Famers are conduits,not recipients of federal money. Surplus to processor.
Slavery. p. 128
People willing to exploit themselves. p. 129

Commodities vs. food.
ADM convicted of price fixing.
Kirschenmann believes humans fell from grace ten thousand years ago, the fall a sin of pride that came from domesticating plants. Since then all of agriculture has been an attempt to enfore distance from nature.
Sin of pride. Ph.D. In religion P. 131

Warm season crops like buckwheat.
Government payments make industrial ag efficient.
Rolling with nature's inevitable punches.
Basis of culture, 40 varieties of corn.
Uncle Richard Frankel Maputo US Aid p. 133
Druing a worldwide urban crisis.
Price fixing in food for Peace program.
System makes people redundant.
The death of the rest he sees as no loss, any town big enough for Wal Mart will survive.

p. 135
Fat market. Hide wheat in foreign aid, Hide corn in livestock. p. 137

3x waste, pig:human. Hog spill, fish kill..
Oligarche, parasitic industry. Corn and soy derivatives.
Evolution. Domestic tall grass, corn.

7% corn crop used in food.
Nitrates.. blue baby sydrome. Killed dolphins.
4 herbicides.
Treat all of us like livestock. Corn syrup 42% of all corn goes to sweeteners.
Processing of politicians.
We pay 11 dollars so ADM can make 1 dollar profit on ethanol.
Money for politics p. 141
Dwayne Andreas “Free market is a myth. The reason we don't call it socialism is that socialism is a bad word.”
p. 144

The escalating boredom of agriclture. p. 146
processed entertainment, illusion of reporters policing excess behavior.
A corn worm has learned the evolutionary trick of laying its eggs in soybeans, thereby defeating crop rotation. That's a parasites job, to look for a big, untapped pile of biomass and then evolve to tap it. Andreas has told me a true thing. His job is to observe, to respond, to evolve, to coopt the coops to morph, to feed on a decaying system.
p. 147
Miscreants – those who speak their intentions outside their private clubs.

I insist on sensuality p. 150.
Civilization is denying sensuality to others.
Christianity is a slave-class movement. Arab egalitarianism. p. 153.
Food taboos, the omivores dilemma.
Dietary Russian Roulette, A victory over our environment.
p. 157
Impulse to divide.
You and your central carbohydrate. P 159
Wild chenopods, refugium, Mexicans here use something like 250 species of edible plants.
The dulling monotony of catastrophic agriculture.
p. 161.
Agriculture does not exist to serve human demands P. 163. Pris: Agriculture is independent of human need , has a will of it own.
Food is the primary incursion o the physical world into the individual.
Hog enslaved the farmer.
p. 164.
Food faddists, perfecting nature, speak the language of commodities. Fallen nature required redemption and Christ was the soul's processor p. 167
Grains requied sedentism. From the very beginnings of agriculture, grain, even fresh off the stalk, was not food. It wanted fermenting or grinding or baking. Hunter gatherers could be nomads because they could pluck nourishment straight from limb or bone. Grain based nutrition required sedentism as much to process grain as to grow it. It never was immediately food, but, rather, a raw material.” p. 167.
Pellagra, kwashiokor, protein deficiencie.
Protein complementarity, p. 168.
Starch... White powder p. 168
Better living through chemistry.
Jell-O: Publically announcing you could afford a refrigerator.
Not offering nutrition... they were offering the illusion of wealth, stability, and order and consumers became willing accomplices in the plot. The marketers would have been equally happy selling most anything else. The ILLUSION OF WEALTH ON OFFER.
p. 170
USDA ignored nutrition. Turned to the Poor.
2 kinds of coupons, Fat People applying for food stamps. PL480 Dumping of grain in the developing world.
p. 172.
Balanced Diet, ratios weighted toward whatever happens to be in surplus.
Ketchup was a vegtable under Reagan.
p. 174.
Selling services
Maintain a stock of poor people sufficient to provide cheap labor p. 180.
Everybody else got fast food and sugar.
An audience that watched as passively as it ate.
Fast Food Nation p. 183.
Obesity is a mark of poverty p. 184
Plants domesticated us. Emergent behavior, Chaos theory.. ability of systems made up of senseless elements to tae on a sense, a logic, rules of their own. The sum of much randomness is order. P. 186.
Any political system is a creation of agriculture. Agriculture dug the tunnel of our vision.
p. 187
2/3 wheat rice corn sugar. Markets corrupted by subsidy. Simply STOP EATING. Negative nutrition.
Rice, neglect food stuff for poor people.
Potatoes, chamaeleon definition. Banana, United Fruit company, Developed Undeveloped Sugar, Bananas Coffee. P 191
A chance to do good work out of sight of – under the radar of mainline industrail Agriclture. Ths is more than a theoretical advantage.
Profit-driven bias opens enormous holes.
Phenomenon of overyielding.
Apomixis – a form of asecual reproduction being worked on by bioitechnology.
$30 bn/subisidy. Apomixis. p. 193

Given the state of affairs of the oligarchy the best of all possible worlds is to be ignored by it. p. 194.
Microbreweries had captured a huge share of the market, bit by bit, unsubsidized, unlobbied, with the simple expedient of quality...
Microbreweries made organic agriculture profitable. p. 194
Virtually every one of us faces the consequences of our ignoranc of agriculture three times a day.

Buyers don't just buy, they learn.
Who said food was supposed to be efficient? Are we better served by spending the time we save in front of television sets, consuming packaged, standardized images, or by lingering amid the lushness of a community market? p. 196. Holes in apples tell consumers “no pesticides”.

It begins with food.
A right, not a privilege.
Self consciously steers away from worst excesses.
Organic Agriculture is still agriculture in that it relies on a relatively small range of plants that are evolved to follow catastrophe and thus require disturbance and are primarily annuals. Organic agriculture is a necessary step, but it is not suffincet at least as it stands, a fundamental redesign is required.
Models of input output waste.
Mistake frenzy for efficiency.

“Our weapon in this is sensuality”. p. 202

The hunter gatherer survives in each of us. When a woman ambles through the union Square market and the deep purple glint of a plum catches her eye, She is replicating a primal process, awakening pathways of primal signals. The process itself is satisfying, human. When she speaks with the farmer who grew the plum, she connects to a bit of her community, her link to the rest of humanity. We subvert agriculture every time we restablish that link. “Our weapon in this is sensuality”. p. 202

Venus, the gratification of sexual desire... the practice or art of hunting , the chase... venereal, venison, to venerate...
Talismen of survival The rich,
Hunting.. one more pleasure to which the rich maintain access as the world shrinks to monotony and drudgery for the rest of us. ' p. 207
Given the means, people will go hunting. Given the means to be human, we will.
p. 208.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hunting and Gathering Wicker's Creek

 Within view of Manhattan at a spot on the Hudson River where people gathered in disbelief, horror and tears, watching the World Trade Center buildings collapse in smoke and flames on Sept. 11 2001, lies the sacred hunting and gathering grounds of the Wickesqueek Indians.

 This was the spot where the Hudson River, before it tumbles into the ocean past Manhattan, is at its narrowest and hence easiest to cross.  The crossing is now known as Dobbs Ferry because an astute businessman named Dobbs operated a ferry service here from shore to shore, but it had been ferried by the native Americans long since, possibly as early as 12,000 years ago.

And from this vantage point they also watched the harvest of the horrors of colonialism and intolerance as their people were massacred in Manhattan in one of the worst bloodbaths of the age of exploration when the Europeans claimed the island at the entrance to the Hudson, which was even then some of the most valuable real estate in the continent, for  their own..
This land has seen plenty of horror.

 Today Manhattan is one of the financial capital's of the world, called the Big Apple, hence the location of the World Trade Center. But it was always a center of trade, the place where the tribes of the Iroquois nation traded foods and furs and building materials and stories.

And Dobbs Ferry was one of the principle cross roads and suppliers for that trade, a great launching place for canoes laden with goods and storytellers to head to the island we now call New York. They didn't have apples to bring to the Big Apple, but they did have fruits and nuts, tree products of enormous wealth, because the forests of Dobbs Ferry, particularly on the spot we now call "Mercy College", in the woods once protected by the nuns, was filled with massive old growth chestnut and acorn bearing white oak trees and hickory trees, supporting huge populations of people and wildlife -- white tailed deer, opposum, racoon, skunk, beaver...


My own ancestors on my father's side, the Robidoux traders, lived among the native Americans and intermarried with them.  Family lore tells us that they depended heavily on Chestnuts for their "daily bread" as well as Acorns and hickory.  Chestnuts, which comprised up to 25%  of the forests, however, were the staple, and unlike Oak seeds (acorns) they had no bitter tannins to be removed.

Chestnut trees in North Carolina in 1910. Produced a consistent abundant crop every year.

According to an article in Nature magazine:
"Once known as the sequoia of the east, the American chestnut was one of the tallest trees in the forest, and dominated a range of 800,000 square kilometres, from Mississippi to Maine (see 'Felled by a fungus'). It made up 25% of the forest, and its annual nut crop was a major source of food for both animals and humans. The decay-resistant wood was also used to make telephone poles, roofs, fence posts and parts of railway lines.
The first warning signs came in 1904, when rust-coloured cankers developed on chestnuts at the Bronx Zoo in New York. Zoo forester Hermann Merkel took a sample across the street to the New York Botanical Garden, where mycologist William Murrill soon identified the spores as chestnut blight. The blight probably hitched a ride on nursery imports of Japanese chestnuts beginning in 1876. Spreading through rain and air, fungal spores infected trees through bark wounds and breaks. Cankers developed, quickly encircling a branch or trunk and cutting off the supply of water and nutrients from the soil. Within 50 years, the blight had laid waste to nearly the entire population of some 4 billion trees."
Other hardwoods, mainly oak, eventually filled the void but they do not produce a consistent crop of nuts every year. “You had a really dominant species that the wildlife depended on which was then replaced with a species that then didn't produce as much,” says Douglass Jacobs, a forest ecologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Reports from the period suggest that squirrel populations initially collapsed, and that five moth species dependent on chestnuts went extinct (D. A. Orwig J. Biogeogr. 29, 14711474; 2002).

Photo from

Nuts of the American chestnut, Castanea dentata. A, burr with nuts. B, chestnut trees in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, in 1878, and people harvesting the nuts with ladders.  (A, Courtesy G.L. Schumann. B, Reprinted from "Scenes in Fairmount Park," The Art Journal, 1878, Appleton and Co.; recieved courtesy of the American Chestnut Foundation.

American Chestnuts were high in nutrition (see, The table for European Chestnuts is here:

Unfortunately a blight that started at the Bronx Zoo wiped out the so called "King of the Trees" and the effects of this loss of nutrition has gravely affected wildlife in the region.

Today the landscape retains some of the oak trees, and these produce a huge bounty of acorns that continue to nourish fragment populations of deer and other wildlife that we see around Mercy College.

Our goal is to return to the use of Acorns and other tree cereals to take pressure off of agricultural lands.

For our first class we will therefore go out and "hunt and gather" acorns in the Mercy woods, ancestral hunting and gathering grounds of the Lenape Indians, and familiarize you with this foundational aspect of the college you are attending.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Mercy College Environmental Science Lecture: Talking like TED in the Noosphere

Today we are continuing our exploration of the art of presenting scientific information to the public using the "Talk Like Ted" format.  You may be already familiar with the TED talks and how they are transforming how we share information. 

 TED stands for "Technology, Entertainment and Design" and with the emergence of TEDx talks, has also come to represent "Technology, Education and Development".  Being a TED speaker is as prestigious as it is impactful and many presidents and CEOs as well as civil society leaders have led TED.  But it is open to anybody with a good idea and the ability to express it.

A TED talk is targeted at 18 minutes or less in length because it has been determined that this is the amount of time most people can stay focused and engaged with a topic before needing to shift their attention. This works out to about 2500 words of text, depending on your pace, so this gives you a bench mark to strive for when you are writing out your speech.

As you can see, today I am using my tablet as a teleprompter with a font size of 60 and speed of 8800 so that I can make sure I don't go over time and so that I can give the same speech in many different venues.  You have the option of doing this too, and by using a prompter you can put in all the fancy terminology you want to use without having to memorize it, and you can come across much more erudite, savvy and sophisticated, cogent and eloquent and possibly inveigling, if that is your intent, than if you were merely improvising. And you don't have to look down at your notes.  TED speakers generally use teleprompters.  They work great as long as you are able to get the scroll rate right!

But as I have mentioned in class, this is one of many tools I would like to put in your arsenal as you confront the world as a Mercy graduate.
The subtitle of TED is "ideas worth spreading" and my goal is to help empower you to first believe that you have ideas worth spreading and sharing, that you are WORTHY ... worth a lot more than you know... and second to help transform you into something the world needs a lot more of... that is, SCIENTIFIC COMMUNICATORS.

I have stressed throughout the semester that I believe we already have all of the technologies we need to make the world a better place, a more  beautiful, healthy, fulfilling, sustainable, thriving and flourishing place for all people and all living beings.  I've stressed my belief that the problems facing us are mostly born of ignorance and politics and fear and immaturity and, as you've heard me say time and time again, addiction ... addiction to drugs like wheat, corn, rice and sugar and other grass family grains and high glycemic starches, along with potatoes, as well as the usual psychoactive substances and stimulants and depressants found in weeds like tobacco and poppy plants and coca leaves.  

I've suggested that if we wean ourselves off of these substances, if we get our blood sugar levels under control, and if we empower ourselves and each other to spend our time learning what we consider important for our well being in our own unique ways and if we learn how to share that information most effectively with others, so they can apprehend it in the ways that suit them best, we can make real and lasting changes for the better.  I am thus an advocate of  sharing the gospel or good news of our own joy with others, believing that in the this way the wave of good feeling will spread out to eventually embrace and empower the whole world.

This philosophy is the reverse of the usual "think globally, act locally" because I think it is disengenuous and even arrogant to think that we can think globally... I believe we should try to put things into a global perspective, but honestly I think we are better off thinking locally ... working hard to solve our own problems at the local level, starting with our own minds and bodies and working outward to ever larger environments - home, family, neighbors and neighborhood, town and city... and by solving our own problems and walking the walk of our talk, showing the outer world how happy we are, finally able to love ourselves and our immediate surrounding, create conditions that will inspire others to be able to find solutions to their local challenges. Eventually, through sharing, these ideas will overlap in ever widening circles of cooperation. So in this way we end up "thinking Locally, but acting globally" -- and we end up acting globally not in some hegemonic or colonial sense, but through social networking and the creation of nodes of enlightenment that lead to the phenomenon of emergence.  Collective intelligence begins to emerge.

What we are helping to create with our learning communities, once they are all connected, which is certainly possible now that we have the internet and air travel and roads everywhere to move people and goods and ideas, is something the French philosopher Tielhard de Chardin called "the noosphere". The noosphere is the sphere of conciousness that emerges from the interaction of the lithosphere ... the rock layer of geology, with the atmosphere... the nitrogen and oxygen rich gas layer that  surrounds our planet
with the biosphere, the thin living layer that makes our planet unique in our solar system.  It is hypothesized that once a planet evolves a biosphere, and once conscious, self-aware and purposefully intelligent beings evolve and develop language and communication technologies, emergent properties can lead to the development of a even more inclusive and expansive consciousness and intelligence.  We call that the noosphere, the sphere of knowing.

I've mentioned in class before the so called "Gaia Hypothesis" posited by biologists James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis.  Margulis was the woman who came up with the now substantiated Endosymbiosis theory that said that all Eukaryotic or complex cells, now found in animals and plants and fungi and protozoa, evolved from simple prokaryotic cells like those found in the Archaea and the Bacteria. The theory is that larger prokaryotic bacteria like cells engulfed other cells but found it advantageous to work with them symbiotically rather than digest them. Eventually those cells, now acting more like cooperative cities than loose assemblages of individual parts, started cooperating to form actual organisms with bodies.
In a similar vein the Gaia theory suggests that collections of organisms of different species can function together like a super-organism, like a body made up of many kinds of plants and animals, but with a teleological purpose.  In this view ecosystems are like living beings with their parts spread out across the landscape.  We had explored briefly how slime molds, which can act as individuals or as a colony,  provide an analogy for this view.  Nonetheless, Gaia theory, as this recent book by Toby Tyrell that I picked up at Harvard last week, is hotly debated.  Critics say that there is actually no need to suggest the earth or its systems are working together the way organisms bodies are to explain what we see happening in nature. But others insist that the earth is acting like a self-regulating global superorganism, and this would have profound implications for things like the current climate change crisis.  Will the earth actively protect itself from our destructive activities the way a body will when it suffers an infection?

The noosphere idea suggests not only that the earth could be considered alive as a being, but that it may be conscious. In this case "mother earth" wouldn't be just a metaphor but a reality.  Still, for all the appeal of this line of reasoning, it is hard to prove.
I will suggest a different approach:  if we consider the noosphere to be an emergent property, we shift the debate about IF the earth is conscious to WHEN.  We already know that unintelligent agents -- individual cells -- can work together in the trillions to form intelligent thinking brains, and we have seen how rather stupid ants and bees and termites and slime molds can come together to create "hive minds" that can solve problems.  We are seeing that individual computer chips can be wired together to create intelligent machines and through cloud computing we are seeing the emergence of a smart web that enables smart phones and smart networks to make decisions and recognize language and faces.  So it appears that human beings, now approaching 10 billion and with one in four networked around the world, have the capacity to create a hybrid machine/human intelligence that is far more powerful and global than anything that has previously existed on the planet.  Once we fully embrace the other non-human creatures we share the planet with and network entire ecosystems, further evolving our own intelligence, it becomes inevitable that the noosphere will appear as a tangible phenomenon that we can directly communicate with and through.

So once again, it isn't really a matter of IF a larger and more plantery intelligence than ours exists, it is a matter of WHEN.  This is what people like Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil are talking about when they speak of THE SINGULARITY.  The singularity is the logical end point of all trends in evolution, geological, biological, social and technological. 
The singularity is almost here, and the more we share ideas from all walks of life and perspectives, and honor all stories and pedigrees, the more likely it is to arrive in a desirable life affirming way rather than turn into a tragic trope in which humans are "shaken off the earth like a bad cold" or "cut out like a cancer". 
Your conscious participation in the evolving emerging noosphere is the key to this century ending on a happy note.  My mission is to help you develop the skills and confidence to have full involvement in how the story of humanity plays out. My mission, and our mission at Mercy, is to help give you the tools for full participation.  It is my hope that you can use these last few weeks of our semester a springboard for you leap with confidence into the uncertain future awaiting us and, through sharing your worthy ideas, make certain its a good one.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What's right with cities? Lecture 1, Urban Ecology, Mercy College

For the next 2500 words I'd like to talk about cities. Cities – where only about 30% of humanity lived when I was born and where today more than 60% of our species live. And counting.
As the population swells from today's 7 billion up to the 9 billion we expect when most of you who are in college today are my age, we already see a planet in which there are more people living in cities today than existed on the planet when I was in high school. Think about that for a second and contemplate this graph:
(Population curve)

That's us for most of human history, this is us in 1900, this is us when my parents were in high school, when I was in high school, when most of you were in high school.
Now we have a situation – if cities are conceived of as problems, 60% or more of us living in them is a BIG problem. (For developed countries the figure is actually up over 80%).

Cities are where almost all resources are consumed and almost all wastes are produced. You could boldly argue that as many, if not more problems are created by our pesticide laden factory farms, ploughed and harvested by smoke belching fossil fueled tractors, filled to the brim with methane belching manure generating cows and chickens and pigs crammed together in CAFO's – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations
(Picture of CAFO)

But this would be a false way of conceiving of today's farms which are not so much part of the countryside as an appendage of the city, created to serve the cities' rising populations
(picture of Mcdonald's over 6 billion served sign)

and therefore to be accounted for as an essential part of what we call the urban ecological footprint.
(Picture of footprint)

Your ecological footprint is the amount of land and resources and impact each person has, the amount of land you are basically stomping on in order to get what you think you need to survive. Arguably people living in cities have a radically larger ecological footprint than people living in the real countryside who actually live off the land – transportation alone – of food, raw materials, inputs – accounts for 28% of energy consumption.

And let us speak for a moment about inputs to factory farming and how the city robs the countryside through farming.

Back at the turn of the last century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel's predicted the “degeneration of agriculture” because all of the nutrients from the fragile soil of the English countryside were being shipped in food products to the city where they were then consumed and either thrown into garbage pits or flushed down toilets, making their way down the Thames to their final burial place in the ocean. ( Marx and Engels reasoned that if the nutrients were not brought back to the farms and replaced, the soils would eventually give out.
This grim prognostication has indeed come to pass all over the world, with the American “dust bowl” tragedy illustrating the danger. The antidote has usually been the very expensive process of using fossil fuels to manufacture fertilizers which are then transported from industrial center to farm at more expense to try and grow more food. With topsoil eroding the result is a diminishment in the nutrtional quality of our food and a much lower carrying capacity for the land. (Picture of dust bowl).

Whether we are talking about the mining of the soil, the mining of mineral reserves, or the mining of forests, the consequence of city living is to drawn down the capital reserves of our farms and fields in an unsustainable way.

 As the economist E.F. Schumacher pointed out in “Small is Beautiful” in the 1960s, nature is like a giant banking account and our income is the amount of sunlight we receive and its immediate transformation into food and heat and wind and moving water.

 Our fossil fuel reserves and our soil and forests and coral reefs and mountains and ore deposits are our savings accounts.
The city, with its dense population and eco-system blind construction, can not live off of the income its land-mass and surface area consume so it uses up our savings faster than they can be replenished.
Hence cities, as we know them, are inherently unsustainable.

But need this always be so?

Can we imagine a city that generates enough income to be sustain itself?

One of the fun ways I like to answer that question is to turn negatives into positives. 

Many so-called “environmentalists” are angry at human beings, and perhaps rightly so. They will tell you that people are stupid and selfish and greedy and can not be convinced to do the right thing.

 My response to that is to accept people as they are and see how we can make best use of our less endearing traits.
So let's be crude for a moment and consider that people are... well.... a$$-holes. Literally. And let's consider that the more people there are in a location, like the city, the more a$$-holes there are. Literally. The city is full of a$$-holes.

Is this necessarily a bad thing?

To answer this question we have to answer the question, “what does an a$$-hole do?”.
Essentially an a$$-hole gives us Sh!t. More a$$-holes means lots and lots of sh!t.
And what doesn't come out of the...let's be more polite and say “anus”, city dweller's tend to throw into the garbage. 

Between 40 and  60% of the food coming from the farm doesn't even make it into people's mouths, much less all the way down the tube we call our body to the anus. Most of that energy goes into smelly garbage bags and eventually makes its way to landfill or into the ocean. Just as Marx and Engels' described.

Major tragedy. 

An even worse tragedy that urbanization wrought was the horrible diseases those organic wastes visited upon human-kind before they ended up in the ocean. On the way from our houses and apartments and restaurants to the dump or the river the fecal material too often contaminates drinking water leading to deaths and illnesses from cholera, typhoid and other water borne diseases. Meanwhile the organic wastes from plant and animal material that didn't pass through our bodies attracted rats and flies and feral cats and dogs and racoons and pigeons and innumerable other mammalian, avian, insect and other consumers who became vermin and vectors of disease. The fleas on the rats that came into our cities in search of the left-overs we threw away caused the bubonic plague that killed tens of millions in Europe in the middle ages and continues to wreak havoc in poor communities today.

And yet, all of this could have been avoided. If we had simply designed our cities to turn all that accumulated material into energy and fertility to grow more food and create more products there would have been nothing for the so called “bad guys” to eat and grow on. All kitchen and toilet wastes could have been turned immediately into energy and safe fertilizer without ever leaving the community or neighborhood much less the city, and without endangering anybody. But for some strange reason very few people talk about this, preferring to try and throw or flush problems away and causing misery downstream for somebody else.

Imagine going back in time and having the power and influence to convince rulers, policy makers, engineers, architects and city planners, and most importantly, the men and women who live and work in cities, that kitchen wastes and toilet wastes are only problems because they are being wasted. That they are only problems because they are being used in the wrong way – thrown out and flushed away instead of put back into service.

Imagine if you could go back in time and convince others that there should never have been any wastes at all – that the city is actually a huge accumulator of energy and fertility, not just a way-station on the path toward increased entropy where everything we consume turns into some form of difficult to manage and hazardous pollution.

I'm here to tell you, at the start of our class, that civilization's greatest triumphs and greatest tragedies revolve around kitchens and bathrooms – something most of you have and take for granted, and something that so many many others around the world have never had the privilege of having.

We all need water, food and shelter, in that order of importance, and we all need some place to safely deposit the results of our consumption of food and water.

The problem is that most people in the world still dump their organic wastes, those coming from the parts of the food they didn't eat and those coming from the parts that passed through their bodies, into streams and rivers and lakes and oceans, or into ditches. A huge number simply dump them in the street or into somebody else's back yard.

Pathogens and vermin get into the water supply and into homes and kill and sicken people – my good friend Hanna Fathy, from Egypt, for example, tells the story of how his baby niece was killed in her crib, bitten and infected by rats that were attracted by the food waste in the garbage but found it easier to eat the baby's ears and nose than try to tear through the sealed plastic garbage bin.
They had done everything they could to keep rats from the food waste they could not eat, but the attempt at hygiene backfired in a city where the rats and roaches and other creatures trying to compete for a living on a planet with less and less living space find the city to be the best place to try and survive.

Thee tragedies could be avoided by proper attention to what organisms are after through the lens of urban ecology. All of us -  humans and non humans alike -- flock to and  live in cities because there are tremendous advantages to accumulation – we call some of these effects “agglomeration economies” and others “untradeable interdependencies”.
Agglomeration economies are the utilities or benefits that come from coming together or “agglomerating”. The more people there are in an area, the more wealth, the more ideas, the more accumulated resources and of course the more so-called “wastes”.

Untradeable interdependencies are the values we gain that we don't have to directly pay money for (they are thus called by economists “untradeable” as they have no financial market, not because we don't actually trade them in some way) and they come from our being together “interdependently”, as a result of sharing space. The learning and information sharing and deal making that goes on in the cafeteria, outside of class, in the elevator, by the water cooler, riding the subway – all of these are the untradeable interdependencies that make coming to school and paying high tuition worth more than sitting at home doing an online class – if you take advantage of them.

 They explain why people will suffer the daily commute into the city or some other densely populated area to go to school and work and shop even when many of the actual goods we need can be obtained more cheaply and with less stress outside the population centers and urban cores. They explain why the Zabaleen garbage pickers of Cairo moved with all of their animals from the countryside to build an informal slum on the outskirts of the city only to live in piles of garbage – they knew that they despite the poverty and the filth and indignity they could make a better living in or near the city where resources have pooled and agglomerated and people are densely packed, than out in the fields and farms and villages.

Other, non-human animals feel the same way.
And so everybody, everything moves to the city. It is where the action is.
But of course this creates huge problems.
The question again is, “DOES IT NEED TO?”

I have a certain answer to that question from my years of working with and living among the so-called “poor” in general and the Zabaleen trash recycling community of Egypt in particular.

 My answer is “the city can solve all of its own problems if the people in the city recognize the city as the solution space that it really is and stop looking at it as merely a consumption space. The city needs to be seen as what the futurist Alvin Toffler called a “Prosumer” environment.

A Prosumer environment is one where people (and other creatures) produce as well as consume, so that each citizen acts as both producer and consumer, hence “prosumer”. The operating ethos of the prosumer environment is what we now call “industrial ecology”. In Industrial Ecology we model our cities after Natural Ecologies found in the larger environment we call “Nature”. In Ecological Systems the output from one process becomes the input for another and everything that can be recycled is recycled in as close to a closed loop system as is possible.
The Zabaleen trash recyclers taught me that there was no such thing as garbage. They come to the city to find metals and plastics and wood and paper and minerals and carbon and other organic materials and transform them, through their labor and intelligence, back into industrial inputs that can be put back into service.

The Zabaleen men gather and sort trash and clean and sell most of the inorganic materials to factories around the world. They also run their own small factories. They also keep pigs in the city, in their apartment buildings and on their rooftops,  along with goats and sheep and cows and rabbits and ducks and chickens, and these creatures help to turn the organic wastes into nutritious meat and useful leather and bonemeal.
What the Zabaleen didn't know how to do, or couldn't afford to do,  given their poverty, was  safely contain all the organic wastes so they would not be available to undesirable organisms or how to create energy and fertilizer from all of this activity.  Thus the toilet wastes of their animals and their own bathrooms, and the parts of the food waste that even their animals wouldn't eat, created problems, caused odor and diseases and infestations of rodents and insects.

But I maintain to you that this isn't as difficult a problem as it seems once you look at it the right way.
The mere presence of rodents and insects and disease causing microbes is a powerful indicator that there is a lot of gold still there in them there hills! If the so-called wastes weren't valuable, the other non-human beings – the one's we don't necessarily want living around us, wouldn't be there, would they? They are only there because we are giving them things to eat. They are only there because we are supplying them with resources.

Once you have an urban ecology perspective you begin to see things differently. You begin to see signs of possibility and hopeful solutions everywhere. Imagine vermin and disease being mere indicators of riches to be found! The trick then is to design processes and systems to capture those hidden values that all these non-human creatures can see. And how do they see the world? In terms of ENERGY.  All living things, including humans, are in pursuit of energy, most of it from the sun. Food is solar energy stored in a kind of transportable battery – the chemical bonds that make up plant and animal tissues, carboyhdrates, proteins and fats. Oil is also solar energy stored in the chemical bonds of petroleum – long dead animals and plants.

And so it turns out that the worst problems caused by cities are really there because we are actually throwing away organic batteries that are still filled with energy. Even the smoke smog and pollution from our trucks and buses and cars and factories are merely indicators that we haven't used up all the energy in those chemical bonds. And all we have to do to turn cities from problem causers to problem solvers is capture that energy and put it to work.

 In this class we will explore how this is done.