24 May 2008

i should be sleeping....

should being the operative word. but i can't. i'm still haunted, you see, and i want to talk about it. i have a feeling that i will haunted for a good long while to come...

i started a book last night at bedtime, one that i've been wanting to read since it was recommended to me numerous times when i've asked friends for fiction suggestions. i've spent years with my head buried in non-fiction and wanted a change during summer break. but i digress.

i made it half-way through the book last night. i spent a good part of this morning wondering if i could finish it - if i could physically and emotionally do it. my mind has "gone there" on its own in thinking about things like what the world could become vis-a-vis climate change, species extinction and even war. i'd be lying if i said i had never played through possible scenarios of how we humans would react in the event of catastrophe or devastation. the strange validation in the pages really was doing zero to comfort me. zero.

there is also a main character that is a small child, a little boy - and that didn't help much either. picturing a scenario such as what unfolds in 'the road,' and picturing bebe's face in the place of 'the boy' in the book was beyond rattling to me. needless to say, i finished it this afternoon in spite of it all. it was terribly painful to read, and at the same time, even more difficult to try to forget - to pretend as if i could just walk away from it.

someone at work tonight asked my why i would want to read such a thing... all i could say was that is a rare occasion that the written word has such an effect on me. not to mention, it was extremely well written. it also ran the gamut of just about every emotion known to us. and was believable. most importantly, this is what a book is supposed to d to a reader.
the book was cormac mccarthy's 'the road.' like i said, i've been haunted since i finished it - it has been a good long while since i have had such a visceral reaction to a work of fiction. i found myself wanting to know more - where the idea came from, why he wrote it. i had to do a little nancy drewin' it when i got in from work. you know me, i'm a detective and i like to get to the bottom of things. i stumbled upon a fantastic article by george monibot that touches on one of the themes (for lack of a better word at this early (late?) hour) of the novel.

but before i do that, i want to say:

go. read. this. now.

'the road' is officially on my top ten must read books of all time infinity. and that my friends, is something.

one last thing... at the risk of sounding horribly cliche - what kind of situation are we creating for our children? what is bebe's world going to look like after i am long gone? i seriously shudder to think.
we have work to do - and we can't wait for anyone else to do it for us.

The Road Well Travelled

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 30th October 2007

A few weeks ago I read what I believe is the most important environmental book ever written. It is not Silent Spring, Small is Beautiful or even Walden. It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments. Nor does it carry a single dreary sentence, which, sadly, distinguishes it from most environmental literature. It is a novel, first published a year ago, and it will change the way you see the world.

Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road considers what would happen if the world lost its biosphere, and the only living creatures were humans, hunting for food among the dead wood and soot. Some years before the action begins, the protagonist hears the last birds passing over, “their half-muted crankings miles above where they circled the earth as senselessly as insects trooping the rim of a bowl.”(1) McCarthy makes no claim that this is likely to occur, but merely speculates about the consequences.

All pre-existing social codes soon collapse and are replaced with organised butchery, then chaotic, blundering horror. What else are the survivors to do?: the only remaining resource is human. It is hard to see how this could happen during humanity’s time on earth, even by means of the nuclear winter McCarthy proposes. But his thought experiment exposes the one terrible fact to which our technological hubris blinds us: our dependence on biological production remains absolute. Civilisation is just a russeting on the skin of the biosphere, never immune from being rubbed against the sleeve of environmental change. Six weeks after finishing The Road, I remain haunted by it.

So when I read the UN’s new report on the state of the planet over the weekend, my mind kept snagging on a handful of figures(2). There were some bright spots - lead has been removed from petrol almost everywhere, sulphur emissions have been reduced in most rich nations - and plenty of gloom. But the issue that stopped me was production.

Crop production has improved over the past 20 years (from 1.8 tonnes per hectare in the 1980s to 2.5 tonnes today), but it has not kept up with population. “World cereal production per person peaked in the 1980s, and has since slowly decreased “(3). There will be roughly 9 billion people by 2050: feeding them and meeting the millennium development goal on hunger (halving the proportion of hungry people) would require a doubling of world food production(4). Unless we cut waste, overeating, biofuels and the consumption of meat, total demand for cereal crops could rise to three times the current level(5).

There are two limiting factors. One, mentioned only in passing in the report, is phosphate: it is not clear where future reserves might lie. The more immediate problem is water. “Meeting the Millennium Development Goal on hunger will require doubling of water use by crops by 2050.”(6) Where will it come from? “Water scarcity is already acute in many regions, and farming already takes the lion’s share of water withdrawn from streams and groundwater.”(7) One-tenth of the world’s major rivers no longer reach the sea all round the year(8).

Buried on page 148, I found this statement. “If present trends continue, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity by 2025, and two thirds of the world population could be subject to water stress.” Wastage and deforestation are partly to blame, but the biggest cause of the coming droughts is climate change. Rainfall will decline most in the places in greatest need of water. So how, unless we engineer a sudden decline in carbon emissions, is the world to be fed? How, in many countries, will we prevent the social collapse that failure will cause?

The stone drops into the pond and a second later it is smooth again. You will turn the page and carry on with your life. Last week we learnt that climate change could eliminate half the world’s species(9); that 25 primate species are already slipping into extinction(10); that biological repositories of carbon are beginning to release it, decades ahead of schedule(11). But everyone is watching and waiting for everyone else to move. The unspoken universal thought is this: “if it were really so serious, surely someone would do something?”

On Saturday, for some light relief from the UN report (who says that environmentalists don’t know how to make whoopee?), I went to a meeting of roads protesters in Birmingham. They had come from all over the country, and between them they were contesting 18 new schemes: a fraction of the road projects the British government is now planning(12). The improvements to the climate change bill that Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, anounced yesterday were welcome. But in every major energy sector - aviation, transport, power generation, house building, coal mining, oil exploration - the government is promoting policies that will increase emissions. How will it make the 60% cut the bill enforces?

No one knows, but the probable answer is contained in the bill’s great get-out clause: carbon trading(13). If the government can’t achieve a 60% cut in the UK, it will pay other countries to do it on our behalf. But trading works only if the total global reduction we are trying to achieve is a small one. To prevent runaway climate change, we must cut the greater part - possibly almost all - of the world’s current emissions. Most of the nations with which the UK will trade will have to make major cuts of their own, on top of those they sell to us. Before long we will have to buy our credits from Mars and Jupiter. The only certain means of preventing runaway climate change is to cut emissions here and now.

Who will persuade us to act? However strong the opposition parties’ policies appear to be, they cannot be sustained unless the voters move behind them. We won’t be prompted by the media. The BBC drops Planet Relief for fear of breaching its impartiality guidelines: heaven forbid that it should come out against mass death. But it broadcasts a programme - Top Gear - that puts a match to its guidelines every week, and now looks about as pertinent as the Black and White Minstrel Show. The schedules are crammed with shows urging us to travel further, drive faster, build bigger, buy more, yet none of them are deemed to offend the rules, which really means that they don’t offend the interests of business or the pampered sensibilities of the Aga class. The media, driven by fear and advertising, is hopelessly biased towards the consumer economy and against the biosphere.

It seems to me that we are already pushing other people ahead of us down The Road. As the biosphere shrinks, McCarthy describes the collapse of the protagonist’s core beliefs(14). I sense that this might be happening already: that a hardening of interests, a shutting down of concern, is taking place among the people of the rich world. If this is true, we do not need to wait for the forests to burn or food supplies to shrivel before we decide that civilisation is in trouble.



1. Cormac McCarthy, 2007. The Road, p55. Picador, London.

2. United Nations Environment Programme, 2007. Global Environment Outlook: GEO4. http://www.unep.org/geo/geo4/report/GEO-4_Report_Full_en.pdf

3. ibid, p86.

4. ibid, p110.

5. ibid, p110.

6. ibid, p83.

7. ibid, p110.

8. ibid, p99.

9. Alok Jha, 24th October 2007. Warming could wipe out half of all species. The Guardian.

10. James Randerson, 26th October 2007. The edge of oblivion: conservationists name 25 primates about to disappear. The Guardian.

11. David Adam, 23rd October 2007. Carbon output rising faster than forecast, says study. The Guardian.

12. The organisation RoadBlock, which convened the conference, has lists of the government’s new trunk road schemes. http://www.roadblock.org.uk/

13. HM Government, March 2007. Draft Climate Change Bill. http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm70/7040/7040.pdf

14. p93.

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12 May 2008

since it is mother’s day...

...i'm gonna rap about bebe...

* he sees dead people.

ok. so i'm not certain. i'll present the evidence and you can decide. kinda like fox news, but totally different.

exhibit a: rolla. riley met rolla somewhere in the house. all the sudden one night, he was hanging out and playing with bebe. bebe told us that rolla was his boyfriend. they payed on and off for a couple of weeks, then rolla went to the bookstore and never came back.

cool. i had an imaginary friend when i was his age, no biggie.

exhibit b: weaver. weaver on the other hand, is an "old guy." i got to the bookstore after class one night to pick up bebe and was informed that he had made a new friend. one that was wearing a "bowler hat" - 'cause, you know, we talk about bowler hats around here all the time. they met in the basement. he told bebe he just couldn't seem to sell any books.

on the way home, i asked more about this weaver... what did he look like?

"he was wearing a round hat, a bowler hat."
"what color was it?"
"blue and orange. he is OLD."
"was he nice?"
"nooooooooo. weaver is MEAN."
"how so?"
"well, he said to me, 'you can't come back here anymore!"
"did you tell him it was your bookstore and that you can come back whenever you want to?"
in the most amazed tone ever, as if to say i can DO that?

no further weaver sitings.

exhibit 3: we're taking food out to a friend that just had a baby. there is a really huge cemetary by her place - i don't know, maybe several city blocks long. bebe is just looking out the window, chillin, as we pass it. suddenly he says, "wow, mommy. there are A LOT of people in there!"

no one that i could see...

*bebe also recently schooled me on who god is. prepare thyselves.

we're driving along, singing to wilco. bebe starts talking about how "that guy sings god's money."

i asked, "do you know who god is?"

without missing a beat...

"yeah! i do! god is daddy!"




10 May 2008

oh possum!

so early this morning, before i got home from work, the boys were awakened by a terrible ruckus coming from the vicinity of the basement. eye witness accounts say it sounded like a fan with something stuck in it, followed by the house rattling. will went to investigate. he figured it was the furnace, as one of our pooches' nose (s?) had been pressed against the ginormous air return vent all night long. and the thing with the fan. so anyway, i arrive home shortly after this all goes down.

when i got up today, i called the furnace service peeps - just to make certain we weren't in danger of blowing or some such. within 20 minutes there was a chad on the doorstep, toolbox in hand. i show him where the furnace is and come back upstairs.

chad lets out a little cry yelp type sound and says, "uh... miss?"
"yeah?" i holler back
"there's a opossum in here..."
"there's a opossum in here...."

well, then...

i wasn't surprised that there was a new resident downstairs so much as i wondered how he just happened to find his way into the furnace vent. since val had a opossum roomate last year, too - i actually read up on the little buggers and kinda fell in love with them.

i knew that the chanced of him biting were slim to none - though they do have about 50 teeth for noshing with. he also most likely won't have rabies - they have this crazy awesome immune system and low blood temp. i also know that they are fairly gentle creatures - that teeth bearing and hissing thang is All Hat and No Cattle. they prefer to avoid confrontation and like to be left alone. don't get me wrong, they can "attack" if the circumstances are just so. and i imagine at this point, he was pretty terrified. i had a feeling that it was all down hill from this point on, as far as his comfort level would go.

i head back downstairs and chad is on his walkie. he's standing as far away from the furnace as humanly possible without standing on a stair. i scan the room, but don't see him... "he's in there." says chad, point to the vent.

of course i wanna see this beast that made so much noise. i asked chad if had got in the fan, causing the early morning drill and he said that the filter would've blocked him from getting at the mechanical workings.

then his walkie beeps. he says, "ed, there's a opossum in her furnace."

more silence.

beeps again.
out of the walkie comes this voice - deep, low, soutern-drawlish, "so, what are you gonna do about that?"

that's when we both laughed. i say, "now, ain't that the eternal question, ed?"

chad starts working on a noose.

"you're not going to kill him, are you?" i don't care for nooses - neck ties or otherwise.

"no, i'm just going to try and loop him so we can get him outside."

his boss had apparently hipped him to some mcgyver instructions on how to fashion a noose with a piece of chewing gum and a birthday candle. kidding. it was really a cord and a thin piece of pvc pipe. but still.

meanwhile, bebe is making friends with the critter through the air return shaft grate thingy: "heeeellllloooo, little guy? you want to come upstairs? have some lunch? are you scared?" bebe has been glued to the spot with a flashlight for several minutes now. by the way - the opossum? b a b y.
even chad said, "wow! he was MUCH bigger when i first saw him in there!"

i try and call animal control against my better judgement. i'm certain they aren't open. and i know they'll be able to tell me how to kill him, but not trap him. so they didn't answer. i looked around for critter catcher type services. nada.
i tell chad i'm not having any luck. he goes to the furnace to try and get him. he loops the little guy with very little trouble and eases him out. as soon as chad gets BO to the ground, BO squirms out. and looks up at me. clearly scared.

i put a big bowl over him and slip a piece of cardboard under it to pick him up. we go outside and look around for a safe spot to leave him in. (have i mentioned there are 1,000 ferel cats in my 'hood?) we decide on the bushes around the church - close, shelter. BO waddles away into the bushes.

after chad leaves, i remember that there's some sort of nature center around here that takes animals. BO is just way too small to be away from his mom, i think. the nature lady tells me what to do. i get a box together and some apples and cat food.

and now, i can't find him.

bebe is really upset. apparently, BO and he are tight. he asks why he can't live in here with us, again and again.

now, hours later, i still feel bad. thinking there wasn't a place that i could take him, i just threw him out there - like that goat in jurassic park. no bueno. i hope the kitties don't get him. i hope he gets to live out his life expectancy of 2-4 years. i hope he finds food. i'll try again tomorrow...

i'm also wondering if BO mama plus siblings are still chillin' in the basement - babies typically don't stray too far from mama. the nature lady said his mom could've been killed, and that he found a way in to our place somehow. just looking for a safe spot. poor little dude.

...still no clue as to how he gained entry into the basement in the first place. he got into the vent via a small gap.

there was no playing opossum today, but i think this is interesting, too:

"When threatened, the opossum will growl deeply as the threat becomes more urgent, it will then either run or deploy it's famous technique- playing possum. The opossum feigns death in a very realistic display; the mouth gapes, the muscles freeze, and a pungent musk is excreted to mimic the smell of rot. This process is entirely reactionary and not a conscious decision. A opossum in this state can be poked, prodded, and even moved with little fear of retaliation. It can take a few minutes up to a couple hours for the opossum to regain consciousness and wander off."

and because of this, many claim that a opossum will show up as a warning of sorts - when it is time to pay attention to those around us who may be putting up false appearances -or creating diversions...

if so, the timing of this truly is uncanny. you ever have a series of moments when someone that you think you know very well says things that seem completely out of character? things that rattle your perception of them - not necessarily for the better? times when you think, "wow. i don't really know you at all?" yeah. that.

but i digress.



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