There are many ways we can talk about the deeper roots of the crisis of our time, setting out from many different vantage points; as Charles Fort pointed out, one measures a circle, beginning anywhere. This week I want to start from that very curious branch of science called “invasion biology,” and more specifically with one of the bêtes noires of that science, the zebra mussel.
The zebra mussel is a small mollusc native to the Caspian Sea, which gets its colorful name from its equally colorful black and white striped shell. Sometime in 1988 or 1989, a Russian freighter on its way to a port in the Great Lakes dumped some bilge water in Lake St. Claire, and in that water were a few zebra mussels. They promptly settled into their new homes, and did what zebra mussels do, which chiefly involves filtering organic substances out of the water and producing eggs at a prodigious rate. Within a short time, as those eggs duly hatched and the hatchlings looked for homes, the species spread to Lake Erie.
That alone should have made our species blink, because in the late 1960s, after a century and a half of unrestricted pollution from lakeside industries and agricultural runoff, Lake Erie had been declared biologically dead. (Some of my readers may remember media stories from 1969, when the Cuyahoga River, which flows into Lake Erie, caught fire one hot summer day—yes, it had that much toxic waste in it.) What had once been a beautiful lake full of fish had become a gigantic open sewer, and very little even tried to live there when the zebra mussels arrived, but this didn’t stop the mussels. Within a fairly short time they had colonized the formerly dead lake en masse, anchoring themselves by the millions to anything that didn’t run away fast enough.
What’s more, as they did what zebra mussels do, the lake began to recover. As filter feeders, zebra mussels strain organic material out of the water, eating what they can and packing the rest into biologically inert “pseudofeces” which drop to the bottom and are entombed in the sediment. As they fed, the lake water slowly became clear again, letting light down to the lower levels of the water column and permitting other species to return. Populations of smallmouth bass, walleye pike, and Atlantic salmon reestablished themselves, to the astonishment of local fishermen, and have been increasing steadily ever since. That’s a sign of major importance more generally, because these big and tasty fish are the peak predators of the lake’s ecosystem; when they thrive, you know that lower levels of the food web are thriving too.
And the human reaction? That’s where things get interesting. The human reaction was all-out panic, followed by frantic attempts to exterminate the zebra mussels, or at least stop them from getting to other badly polluted lakes, of which there are of course no shortage in that region. To be fair, the mussels have certain habits humans find understandably annoying. They like to fasten onto the outflow pipes for industrial waste, sewage, and heated water from nuclear power plants, blocking the pipes solid and forcing factories and utilities to spend huge amounts every year to bore the pipes open again so they can keep on polluting. (Don’t try to tell me that Mother Nature doesn’t have a wicked sense of humor.) They also like to fasten onto any other convenient surface, such as boat hulls, and cleaning those is another hefty expense.
If you want to keep on doing business as usual when zebra mussels are present, in other words, it’s going to cost you. Of course there’s a much better alternative. It wasn’t one that most people are willing, or even able, to think about—but we’ll get to that.
There are still frantic attempts to stop the zebra mussels from doing what zebra mussels do, that is to say, cleaning up the rest of the vast network of highly polluted inland waterways in North America. Those attempts aren’t doing much good, not least because zebra mussel eggs and hatchlings have apparently picked up the useful habit of hiding in mud, and thus of hitching a ride from lake to lake on the feet of wading birds. What’s more, another closely related species, the quagga mussel—yes, it got the name because it has brown and white stripes on its shell—has shown up more recently to join the cleanup party. Zebra mussels need a lot of phosphorus, which the Great Lakes had in vast and toxic amounts until they got to work. Quagga mussels are less dependent on that particular nutrient, and so as phosphorus levels in the lake water drop toward more normal levels, the zebra mussels are moving on to more polluted pastures, leaving the quagga mussels to finish the job of restoring Lake Erie to a healthy and biologically productive state.
You might be wondering, dear reader, why people haven’t looked at the ongoing recovery of Lake Erie, the booming populations of bass and pike and salmon, and the clear blue waters that were vile-smelling pools of greenish-brown effluent not so long ago, and decided to erect a statue and dedicate a holiday to the humble mollusc that made it all possible. That sort of talk isn’t wholly absent these days—fishermen, especially, are starting to suggest that maybe the zebra mussel ought to be left alone so it can go about cleaning up the mess we made—but you won’t hear such things mentioned in the big glass and concrete buildings where, securely insulated from the vagaries of nature, the movers and shakers of the government, corporate, and academic worlds hammer out the policies the rest of us have to put up with. No, what you hear there at best are grudging admissions that the zebra mussel is here to stay, and more often, another round of ringing calls to unite against the horrible invasive species that’s cleaning up the Great Lakes for us.
The saga of the zebra mussel, furthermore, is one example out of many. All over the world, species are changing their geographical ranges, moving into areas previously unknown to them, and settling down to stay. All over the world, tough, resilient, adaptable generalist species are spreading like wildfire, and fragile species dependent on specific ecological conditions are being elbowed out of the way. All over the world, furthermore, species able to thrive in polluted environments are finding their way to polluted environments, thriving there, and restoring them to ecological balance. If you know anything about evolutionary ecology, you know that all this is normal—that in times of ecological stress, when climate bands are shifting and ecosystems are in turmoil, this is the way that Mother Nature braces herself for the shock and gets ready for a burst of adaptive evolutionary radiation once things settle down again.
The biologists who’ve made invasion biology into a hot scientific field in recent years all learned this when they were undergraduates. Yet these straighforward and uncontroversial points, universally recognized in other contexts, have gone out the window when it comes to environmental change in our own time. Read the current literature on invasive species, in fact, and you’ll very often find normal scientific objectivity discarded in favor of the kind of language more usually found in wartime propaganda: peaceful biotic communities menaced by aggressive invaders, and the rest of it. Why?
When people behave in ways that make no sense according to their own stated beliefs and values, it’s always worth checking for hypocrisy, and there’s certainly some of that in invasion biology. David Theodoropoulos’ useful book Invasion Biology: Critique of a Pseudoscience documents in some detail the role played by the pesticide firm Monsanto in funding research into invasive species, which reliably ended up spewing out sales pitches for assorted Monsanto product lines. (This sort of marketing disguised as research is pervasive in science these days.) Still, there’s more to it than that. People who clearly aren’t getting research grants from Monsanto are still getting swept up in a passionate attempt to keep nature from cleaning up our messes and responding constructively to the ecological changes our species has set in motion, and that deserves more attention than it’s received so far.
The weird sort of doublethink that surrounds invasive species is far from the only example of the kind. As a Druid who’s written at some length about the future of industrial society, for instance, I quite often field emails and letters from people who’ve read the latest stories from the media about how this or that or the other crisis has doomed the Earth, and want to know what I think about it all. It so happens that almost without exception, the news stories in question take some change currently under way in the biosphere, extrapolate it in a straight line to the point where things break down, and claim on that basis that the end is nigh.
It’s hard to think of a better example of the pervasive ecological illiteracy of our society. In the real world—that is, in the living world of nature—no trend continues in a straight line for long; there are always countervailing forces that come into play. The line turns into a curve, the curve into a circle, and we have another of the cyclical processes that play out in such giddy profusion in the world around us. Whether the trend in question tracks human population, climate change, the buildup of toxic organic compounds in Lake Erie, or what have you, stick around for a little while and you can watch the circle spin. (One of the entertainments the media provides the ecologically literate, in turn, comes from watching the same media—and sometimes the same pundits—sounding the alarm about a trend line headed one way when not too long ago, they sounded the alarm about the same trend line heading the other way.)
It’s the reaction when I point this out, though, that makes me suddenly start thinking about zebra mussels. In a certain number of cases, to be sure, the people who ask me such questions are delighted to be relieved of their fears, and some of these people go on to start asking hard questions about the rigidly linear thinking that underlies so many media scare stories. Yet it’s at least as common, and often more so, for people who ask me for my opinion about the ecological crisis du jour to be irritated by my reaction. Sometimes they argue, which is fine if the argument stays in the realm of facts. Rather more often, though, they start sulking, or even begin yelling insults. How dare I tell them that nature is going to do something to fix the mess we’ve made?
And of course that’s exactly the issue. You can see the same thing at work in the weirdly repetitive stupidity with which we use some poison or other to try to annihilate this or that life form that gets in our way, and then get taken by surprise when the life form in question evolves around the poison and keeps doing whatever it is that we don’t want it to do. When that happens, in turn, the only alternative most people seem to be willing or even able to think of is to trot out some even stronger poison. Rinse and repeat, and before long you’ve got bacteria that are resistant to every antibiotic, weeds that shrug off doses of weed killer sufficient to kill the crops farmers are trying to grow, and zebra mussels enthusiastically anchoring to the very dredges that humans are trying to use to get rid of them.
The failure of logic in all these cases can be summed up very simply: our culture—meaning here the collective culture of modern Western industrial society—is obsessed by the false belief that nature can’t adapt to our actions. The default assumption on the part of most people in industrial society is that only human beings can learn and adapt and change; the whole world of nonhuman existence we sum up in the word “nature” is not permitted to do any of these things. Nature, according to this delusion of ours, is timeless and changeless, lurching through a set of eternally preprogrammed routines that only we can interrupt. Thus the shrieks of outrage when zebra mussels start cleaning up our pollution, or oceanic plankton adapt to the changing acidity of seawater, or a weed shrugs off buckets of Monsanto’s latest carcinogenic weed killer and keeps on photosynthesizing: it’s as though we think Mother Nature isn’t playing fair.
The thing that makes this blindness to the obvious so bizarre is that we know better. It’s only those who haven’t gotten around to learning the first thing about biology who have any excuse for thinking that nature is timeless and changeless. Go for a walk in wild land anywhere in North America that isn’t currently covered by glacial ice sheets, and the plants and animals you see were not there a mere 11,000 years ago. That’s how long it’s been since the spectacular burst of global warming at the end of the Younger Dryas stade pushed the continental glaciers of the last ice age into their final collapse and sent invasive species such as oaks and pines and birches into habitats that had been closed to them for a hundred thousand years or so.
Go back just a little further and the changes become even more striking. How many people these days remember, for example, that the lion as a species is only about as old as humanity? Like Homo sapiens, Panthera leo began to evolve out of smaller and less effective predators as the global cooling of the Pliocene caused forest to give way to open plains. Like Homo sapiens, Panthera leo adapted fast and became an invasive species, spreading rapidly across the Old World the way that zebra mussels spread into Lake Erie. To judge from cave paintings, early humans knew and feared the cave lions of Ice Age Europe, which were bigger and stronger than African lions, and perfectly willing to treat our ancestors as just another source of meat.
When we act as though Mother Nature isn’t playing by the rules, in other words, we’ve forgotten that she makes the rules, and our opinions on the subject don’t matter to her at all; whatever nature does is, after all, natural. Gaia is a tough and feisty old broad; she’s shrugged off cataclysm after cataclysm—ice ages, nearby supernovas, asteroid impacts, gargantuan volcanic eruptions—and watched millions upon millions of species emerge, strut their stuff, and go tumbling down into extinction. We like to think of ourselves as something special, and to ourselves and each other, no doubt we are, the way dogs are important to other dogs and zebra mussels to other zebra mussels. To Gaia? Even if the biosphere of the Earth is a conscious entity, as some traditional occult philosophies and some modern mystics insist, there’s no reason whatsoever to think that to her, we’re anything but one species out of millions, no more inherently interesting or important than hagfish or aardvarks or blue-green algae.
This is why it’s a mistake to treat the recognition of nature’s immense resilience as though it excuses or justifies the various colossal stupidities that sum up most of our species’ current impact on the biosphere. Nature’s capacity to adapt to our actions does not necessarily work out to our benefit. The same zebra mussels that are scrubbing the waters of Lake Erie clean of our pollutants are also making it disastrously expensive to continue doing a great many things with Lake Erie that human beings think they ought to be able to do. The spread of antibiotic resistance among bacteria, which is already totting up a noticeable body count and seems likely to become quite a bit worse in the years immediately ahead, is another good reminder that the biosphere doesn’t have to care about our well-being.
That same insight deserves to be applied more generally. Modern industrial society, that fragile and jerry-rigged contraption currently perched on the edge of history, could be shattered irrevocably by the kind of global shock that has happened thousands of times already in Earth’s long history. Our species, by contrast, is considerably tougher than that. Granted, the resilient ones among us are not to be found among the comfortable classes who are doing most of the yelling about invasive species these days. Outside the sedulously guarded social bubbles where the privileged live out their brittle and pampered lives, though, human beings are tough, omnivorous generalists, right up there with rats and cockroaches in our capacity to survive and thrive in grubby times.
Yet it’s basically guaranteed that some future extinction crisis will wipe the last of us off the face of the globe, if we don’t succumb to some less gaudy means of extinction first. The average large vertebrate genus, if I recall correctly, lasts for around ten million years, and the genus Homo has been here for around two million years at last count; if we’ve got average luck, we’ve got a good long run ahead of us, but we could always roll snake-eyes in the evolutionary crapshoot much sooner than that. An extinction crisis severe enough to take us out, though, would leave hundreds of thousands of other species alive, and after the usual post-crisis burst of adaptive evolutionary radiation, the Earth will again be teeming with critters.
That is to say, we’re anything but indispensible. Neither our current industrial civilization nor our species has to exist, and it’s a safe bet that both of them will go away in what amounts to an eyeblink or two in geological terms. If we want that eyeblink or two to last a little longer than it otherwise would, ditching the notion that nature is incapable of adapting to our actions is a good first step in that direction.
“When we act, we create our own reality,” neoconservative guru Karl Rove is credited as saying to reporter Ron Suskind. “We’re history’s actors, and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” Take that same flagrantly delusional thinking and apply it to the rest of the cosmos, and you’ve got what amounts to the standard attitude toward nature in modern industrial society. Getting past that, and engaging with the world as it is rather than the world as we want it to be, is crucial if we’re going to salvage anything at this point in the turning of history’s wheel.
The point I want to make can be summed up even more crisply. Our habitual way of dealing with Mother Nature assumes that we talk and she listens, full stop, end of sentence. That habit hasn’t worked well, to say the least, and the further we push it, the more disastrous the results are likely to be. What we need to recognize, rather, is that we’re engaged in a conversation with the old broad. We said “pollution,” she quipped “zebra mussels;” we said “internal combustion engines,” and she smiled and said “coastal flooding.” We can listen to her responses and learn from them—
—or not, and find out the hard way what else she has to say. We’ll talk more about this as the discussion continues.
Two notes on not-quite-unrelated issues deserve space here. First, longtime readers of mine will recall the Green Wizards forum at www.greenwizards.com, which was founded in those heady days when peak oil was all over the headlines, and remains a going concern long after most of the more loudly ballyhooed elements of the peak oil scene folded their tents and vanished into the night. Webmaster David Trammel has just completed a thorough upgrade and redesign of the forum, and the discussions are picking up; if you want to have a conversation with other people about how to have a conversation with nature, that’s a first-rate place to do so.
Second, I’m delighted to report that the third volume of my epic fantasy with tentacles, The Weird of Hali: Chorazin, is now shipping in paperback and available for immediate purchase in e-book form. A fantasy novel that stands H.P. Lovecraft on his head may seem worlds removed from the serious issues we’ve been discussing, but fiction is a superb tool for talking about difficult issues indirectly, and those who read between the lines may find themselves catching onto some familiar themes. Check it out here.
The inaugural meeting of the Green Wizards Association of Auckland will be held on the 30th of March 2019 at 13:00.
The venue is to be confirmed but will be near Aotea Square, 303 Queen St, Auckland, 1010, New Zealand.
Please RSVP, or send queries and comments to limitstogrowth1972[at]gmail.com or better still sign up for e-mail reminders at https://wormlamp.com/gwaa/.
We look forward to meeting you.
Nature does have a way of imposing limits. Too bad most humans have not gotten the memo.
The terror of thinking humans aren’t central to existence also needs to be faced: personally, I don’t see why it’s so scary, but lots of people, well before reaching the point of conversation with nature, would be running in terror as she tells us we aren’t that important.
History sure loves irony, doesn’t she? I keep finding it absolutely astonishing that science would be developed in one of the few cultures that, when presented with the way of looking at things that science reveals, which makes humanity seem so small, reacts in terror and doesn’t shrug and say something to the effects of “yes, and?” like the rest of our species.
This is an important and often very true perspective. Many invasive plants grow first and foremost on disturbed habitats. E.g., kudzu gets its start along the roadsides, not in the middle of the woods. Hose it with enough pesticide to kill it, and you won’t get a nice climax forest on that spot, but a dead zone. OTOH, it’s hard to see a whole forest covered with the stuff, or a Lantana monoculture eating the better part of a square kilometer, and not think that something is off.
As for the pesticide-resistant weeds that GMOs and spraying are getting us – most of those weeds are edible, useful plants. Future generations may be glad to have them if the corn harvest collapses.
Yes! Thank you! Perhaps people are freaked out by invasive species on account of the rather obvious presence of living gods. Not only Gaia, but Great God Pan is afoot in and with and through them, with his exuberant, virile, highly sexual potency. No wonder our biophobic, technophilic, plastic and chrome society freaks out! Pan so obviously is already dancing with his retinue of nymphs and satyrs all in and with and through our paltry monuments of concrete, asphalt and steel, leaving in his wake a giddy assortment of forests, meadows, glades and fields.
I’m going to have to do a Green-Washed Marketing document for the Zebra Muscle now much like I did with the Honey Locust ( https://wrasp.wordpress.com/2019/01/18/project-holy-eco-nuts/ )
Interestingly besides Eco Holy Nuts, another anagram for Honey Locust is, “Use Thy Colon,” which is hilarious because Honey Locust seeds generally need to pass through a digestive system to germinate.
Very well done.
Fascinating exposure to “Thinking outside the ‘sapiens’ box”. Thanks for this. Makes me think back to a lecture by some long forgotten ‘expert’ on evolution to which my only response to him was that our species, homo sapiens (terminology invented by some other social ‘experts’) is destined to become extinct in the million or so years that homo species seem to survive. Of course, there is no saying that we shall last that long – we are supposed to last, it would appear, another 700,000 years!
Two points: 1.The non-covert op to take down Venezuela would seem, at least in some ways, to echo your novel Twilight Last Gleaming, and 2. I would take it for granted that this planet, long long ago, has seen previous human civilizations come and go, thanks to the same sort of Rovian hubris we see all around us today.
as an addendum to my last comment I notice you wrote: “And the human reaction? That’s where things get interesting. The human reaction was all-out panic…”
Of course in ancient Greece panic was linked to Pan. Pausanias tells a story of a Greek army that triumphed over an invading force because Panic took hold of the invading army and the soldiers started to slay their own men in a frenzy. So the Greek army prevailed thanks to the grace of the god. Of course, one could draw rather uncomfortable analogies to what the inmates of industrial civilization are doing to their own descendants, condemning them to misery and early graves in a blind, frenzied panic.
Monsanto. Arghhhh, I might have known. On the other hand, go mussels! I read the other day that mealworms, or rather a bacterium that lives in their gut, can digest styrofoam. I was ecstatic. I was ready to set up a mealworm farm in my apartment and scavenge for their dinner. Now there is talk about brewing up giant vats of the bacterium, which sounds possibly misconceived. I mean, why not just keep it simple and let the mealworms do what mealworms do? Why is it always about us? Oh yes, profit.
Anyway, depressing as I find the damage our species has done and continues to do, it’s nice to think that something as small and unpretentious as a mussel can undo it.
Congratulations on the publication of your newest novel! Great essay! I know someone who is against feral cats and TNR (trap, neuter, release) because outdoor cats prey upon wild birds. I guess the unmentionable “solution” is to kill any cat who cannot successfully be trained to stay indoors. This particular bugaboo is one of the minor plot-lines of Jonathan Franzen’s tome, Freedom, which is in my opinion a dull, sprawling novel by an insufferable elitist tool.
My time on mother earth is now passing 85 years, much of it spent in wilderness and rural settings lived largely outside in the natural world. I have watched that world continually shrink during my time in almost every conceivable way, and while I find your point of view interesting and no doubt correct in many ways, I am afraid I find it gives me scant consolation, given that my time here has been so short.
Thanks, JMG, incisive as usual. The delusive stance toward nature that you discuss here reminds me of the way that some “good merikuns” caused me some embarrassment when we were travelling abroad. They did not hesitate to tell the host peoples that their ways were wrong. It was especially disturbing in Asian countries when Buddhists were told they were on the “highway to hell.” Seems the brand of arrogance is related?
I read a lot and try to keep up with current events. I have never heard, in any publication or article, that zebra mussels have had any kind of positive effect on any environment. Please understand: I am NOT trying to say, “JMG doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” or some other nonsense. How I wish that there were some positive reporting on subjects like this! But, as we know, bad news drives the media. And the consumers of media, that is, me.
I’m reminded of a fiction book (whose author I can’t remember now) where the Russians were attacked (again!) by other nations. The Russians engineered a bacteria that became known as the Gas Bug, which ate refined petroleum and turned it into useless goo, ending the invasion and a good many other things. I have to wonder if (when?) there will something similar that appears naturally.
“When we act as though Mother Nature isn’t playing by the rules, in other words, we’ve forgotten that she makes the rules, and our opinions on the subject don’t matter to her at all; whatever nature does is, after all, natural.”
This calls to mind the key concept I always took from the Book of Job back when I was still operating within the Judeo-Christian paradigm: God isn’t God because God is Good; God is Good because God is God. That is, God makes the rules and defines what Good is; there is no separate thing called Goodness apart from the Divine. Power defines ethics.
A stark lesson in humility, certainly.
[Nerd here; likely just a typo & no need to post–but this Cuyahoga River fire happened on 1969. We lived just west of Cleveland at the time.]
Cf. http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Cuyahoga_River_Fire .
Thanks very much for this. I have been walking past the Dangerous Zebra Mussel mugshot sign at my local lake without giving them their due! I had no idea of the role they have been playing in cleaning up the Great Lakes.
The environmental contaminant we are cursed with in my local watershed is PCBs. My understanding is that the half-life is 1,000 years or more, and unfortunately no zebra mussels or anything else have shown any interest in consuming them. I spent a while fretting about this, until I finally realized the river was sort of laughing at me. The river will keep on flowing, PCBs or not. The contamination is a problem for humans, not the river. It is a toxic lesson we will be learning for quite some time in this case.
Excellent contribution to the life sciences! (Although not likely to appear in a standard textbook anytime soon.).
Thinking of your Law of the Planes chapter in Mystery Teachings, could it be said that the biological activities of the zebra mussel in Lake Erie exists on a different plane than the overall ecological activity of the living systems in that lake? And maybe another plane for the economic activities of the humans living on and around the Lake?
Yes, this is exactly why I’ve been thinking lately that one way nature will cut our ever-growing numbers down to size will be to unleash a new pandemic upon our species that may be even worse than smallpox or the Black Death. We certainly seem to be inviting such a scenario by invading, exploiting, and devastating ever more habitats in our drive to expand our reach. There’s probably some virus lurking in one of those habitats just waiting for us to unleash it.
Considering our apparently never-ending habit of always choosing attractive fallacies over homely truths I think you might be giving us too much credit in ranking us the equal of roaches.
It also occurs to me that Industrial Society as an entity values profit above all else, including life, regardless of who it belongs to. Isn’t this a nearly textbook definition of psychopathy?
sir: you are brilliantly channeling one of the greatest philosophers of ecology, robert michael pyle. he is the originator (i believe) of the phrase “nature bats last” and points out very articulately in a long ago essay that nature can and will recover from anything we throw at her. referencing our frenzied efforts to eliminate the coyote he noted: ” When the last man takes to his grave, there will be a coyote on hand to lift his leg over the marker.” i suspect the zebra mussel will outlive all the attempts to kill it off too.
It’s great that zebra mussels are cleaning up Lake Erie. On our place the invasives haven’t been as cooperative. The invasive Veroa mites are killing the bees and invasive cogon grass will choke out any other species and is inedible to deer and livestock. Unfortunetly to maintain meadows and pastures we have to use herbicides or the cogon would be unstoppable.
Another thing that comes to mind when I contemplate our situation as a species as well as my own floundering about (as evidenced recently…again) also ties into the article referenced by @ Haydar above. Namely, that we have adapted a particular set of things (skills, behaviors, tools) that have proven useful in a certain context, but have lost sight of the conditional nature of that metric.
In mathematical analog, we’re talking about the difference between a global and a local optimum, or a unconditioned probability versus a conditional probability. We’ve taken a result that is true under certain constraints and extrapolated over a larger region, ignoring the role that the conditions play in defining the optimum we determined. (The highest peak within the borders of the US, for example, versus the highest peak in the world.)
Our linear extrapolations are useful, but only within a small neighborhood of the current point. Go too far and your linear estimate diverges considerably from the nonlinear curve you are estimating.
Early in my meditation practices, one of the things I was shown/told by Whomever She May Be was “tools, not truths.” That is, these things I prize–logic, reason, quantitative analysis, mathematical structure, and the like–are not truths, and certainly not Truth, but merely tools that are useful for performing certain, specific tasks. A screwdriver is helpful in some things (tightening a screw, prying a lid off a paint can), but not in others (flipping pancakes, plowing a field). And to argue that a given tool “simply has to be the sole measure of all things and anything that it can’t be used for isn’t valuable anyway” is, well, just plain foolish. And, well, I keep forgetting that.
I hear those water zebras recently made it to one of the local irrigation reservoirs. I figure they will start clogging up pipes here in short order, happily my family are long time advocates for ditch and flood irrigation. Sad thing about those farms with the expensive side roll irrigation. Not only does nature respond to the muck in the water, she also responds to the human efforts to imprision water flows.
A Green Wizard from Utah I know calls the efforts to control invasive plants ‘moonscaping’. The counties out west get big state dollars to spray for weeds. I dream of finding resistant seed heads to distribute.
Great article JMG. As a slight aside I’m curious about your thoughts regarding the Younger Dryas Event. A recent discovery of a large impact crater under the ice in Greenland seems to suggest a possible cosmic explanation for the upheaval. This has been a fringe idea for quite a while but it’s starting to seem more plausible. Do you have an opinion one way or the other?
One of your most fascinating articles, JMG. Though a keen American history buff and America-watcher I never even knew that Lake Eyrie had recovered, let alone that the hero of the episode is the zebra mussel. I hope that next time I open a new modern history of the USA, I’ll find due prominence has been given to his story. After all, histories mention the Dust Bowl as an example of Man destroying Nature. Surely, the de-toxifying of the Lakes is an equally weighty event on the side of natural resilience.
On invasive species, by the way, I’ve heard that kudzu is actually edible. So no worries – we can just dine off the stuff.
Thank you. Very interesting. I’m going to have to start reading about invasion biology.
“This is why it’s a mistake to treat the recognition of nature’s immense resilience as though it excuses or justifies the various colossal stupidities that sum up most of our species’ current impact on the biosphere. Nature’s capacity to adapt to our actions does not necessarily work out to our benefit. “
The points you raised here are among the reasons I left the ‘ecological restoration’ business. It’s all focused on resisting the presence of plants and animals that aren’t going anywhere, and using extremely harmful and dubious methods to eradicate them. Thank you for phrasing them in such a concise way. I was fortunate to make the transition into landscape design, with a focus on native plants. I know the whole concept of plant nativity holds about as much water as a slate roof, but I think they still have an important role to play in sustaining the food web. As a lurker in the CosDoc discussion, I’m reminded of the thrust-block discussion. Rather than eradicate the plants you don’t want, cultivate the one’s you do! Maintain the genetic diversity and the food web as best you can, and maybe some fraction of that will make the future landscape a little less empty. Over the long haul it won’t matter much, but in the here and now I think it’s a reasonable thing to do.
I’m reminded of the quote by Hildegard of Bingen: “All of creation God gives to humankind to use. If this privilege is used, God’s justice permits creation to punish humanity”. I’m not a member of her faith, but I love this line.
This was awesome JMG – thank you for so clearly explaining what I’ve been trying to tell people for years!
I can’t count the times I’ve heard one new ager or another bemoan how humans are killing the planet. As one of those who believes the planet likely does have some form of consciousness, my standard response has always been – ‘no, the earth will continue to make adjustments until she’s had enough and then she’ll adjust us permanently…the planet will go on just as before, without us pesky humans’!
I always thought it’s the timing that’s up to us, the harder and faster we ‘push her buttons’ the sooner she responds 😉
Great piece JMG. Having studied ecological biology at uni in the 90’s I became very concerned about the destruction of nature by human activity. The invasion of weeds and invasive species that were destroying habitat. Climate change that would render the world unlivable. This was driving me to the point of nearly becoming a militant environmentalist. Then a realisation occurred – nature adapts brilliantly. In 50000 years from now things will be in a new state of temporary balance (as it always is) and mother nature will be getting on with things as usual. More than likely having shaken her short feverish bout of humans. I often say to people just get on with enjoying your life because yellow stone could explode any day (or not for another 100 000 years) rendering our current way of life impossible.
As my bumper sticker said ( back in the 80’s when I still had a car) ” Nature Bats Last”.
Lake Erie was not nearly so dead as you make it out to be in the early 80s. I used to have an old social studies text book that said how Erie was dead, but that was always a joke to me. At least in the Ashtabula area, the lake was not dead, and you could go fishing and eat what you caught back then, and that was before the Zebra Mussel was introduced in 1986. The Clean Water Act and the EPA made great strides in helping clean the lake.
Fascinating post! Here where I live on the shores of Lake Ontario there is much ado about zebra mussels, and this is the first time I’ve ever heard anything positive said about them!
Sometimes the most difficult thing to get my head around is the fallacy that humans are un-natural. We erect buildings and erosion brings them down. We smelt metals and the atmosphere converts them back to oxides. Cremate a human and what to you get? Pretty much the same thing as when you burn some coal or have a barbecue. We apply our “laws of Nature” to slice and dice the environment and are shocked to realize the environment is ready to slice and dice us.
I recall from my youth how our mother would corral us into the local Methodist church. Most of it is now a blur of boredom or a longing to return to the creek that flowed through town. However, the benediction at the end of the service does stand out. “As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be. World without end, amen, amen.” I heard that week after week and believed it without question. After all the the Rev. Philip E. Fried was such a nice guy. Always there with a smile and kind word. It would never have occurred to me to question the received wisdom.
Until that is in science class we learned the Sun is your average yellow dwarf star about halfway through its life cycle merrily burning its hydrogen at a gazillion tons per second. In five billion years when most of the hydrogen is gone, it will puff itself up into a red giant and fry the Earth. So, it’s not forever then? No, and it gets worse. The nuclear heat engine that drives plate tectonics will have petered out long before then. In about 800 million years the Earth’s core will have cooled and the convection that moves the land masses will have ground to a halt. With that goes the magnetosphere that fends off the solar wind. In less than a billion years the Earth will be a bigger version of Mars. A tad warmer but just as barren and lifeless. Crap, and I had things to do that day.
That zebra mussel had me pretty upset there for a while. Just like that Jeff Bezos guy. What nerve! What chutzpah! How dare they make such a mess of things? It’s so exhausting. No, there is a higher level of understanding. Just like the Dude, Nature abides.
One of the scariest stories that pops up reliably in my social media feed is about the “80% decline in insect mass”. It is not too hard to imagine a breakdown in the food chain that leaves us all in a Mad Max-style planetwide desert where all animals are dead and everyone is starving.
But then I spotted an entomologist on Twitter objecting to the story. He said that wild areas were not in danger of vanishing; rather, the insect dropoff is in precisely the kind of overengineered farmland that Monsanto caters to. In fact, monocultured farms have less biological richness than downtown New York City.
This really clicked for me, because it resonates with something I’ve learned about the “shrine forests” inside Japanese Shinto shrines, which make for such beautiful images in memes and anime: in reality they are artificial spaces, generally cultivated post-WW2 and limited to a few tree species, and less biodiverse than the ordinary streets surrounding them.
We are imperiling our own survival in various ways, but the general message of doom may make it hard to see the real sources of danger and possible salvation.
George Carlin had a whole routine based on these concepts. Great minds think alike, as the cliche goes.
Checking Google Scholar for responses to the Theodoropoulos book, I found another example of invasion rhetoric being used in the service of industrial mucking with ecosystems:
Interviews with long-time Crystal River residents suggest that development disturbances in the early 1950s were followed by a rapid expansion of water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), a nonnative floating aquatic plant, from shoreline fringe areas into
large swaths of open water. Interestingly, the accounts also suggested that water hyacinth
was known in Kings Bay well before the plant’s population proliferated to nuisance
levels, and that local fishermen in particular were known to regard the plant as a reliable
habitat for finding bait such as shrimp and crayfish as well as a nursery ground for
largemouth bass and other freshwater fish. Expansion of the water hyacinth, one interview
participant argued, was ‘‘nature’s way of dealing with development,’’ an assessment that is
generally consistent with scientific literature suggesting that explosive growth of water
hyacinth is often a direct result of increased contaminant loading, habitat disturbance, and
other human impacts in a water body.
Whatever the ultimate cause, interview participants indicated that the extensive floating
mats of water hyacinth did come to be regarded as a navigational nuisance, in much the
same way as reported elsewhere in Florida during the first half of the 20th century and throughout many other areas of the subtropics and tropics where water
hyacinth has been introduced. Interview accounts also indicated that,
similar to other areas of Florida, an herbicide program to suppress water hyacinth
apparently was initiated in Kings Bay in the mid to late 1950s.
Although four interview participants with remembrances of this period suggest that
aggressive hyacinth suppression initially was welcomed by local fishermen and other local
residents frustrated by the impacts of the plant’s increasingly prolific growth, local opinions began to shift yet again in the aftermath of the control programs. One long-time
resident emotionally recounted the early water hyacinth control program in the following
The crystal water… went to muck when the hyacinths died from the spray, and the
fish couldn’t be found. As bad as the hyacinth was, what they did to get rid of ‘em
was worse… The water was always clear with the hyacinths, and the fish was never
better—even if we couldn’t always get to ‘em. It never was the same after they
sprayed ‘em all down.
From “Adaptive Management of Nonnative Species: Moving Beyond the ‘‘Either-Or’’ Through Experimental Pluralism” (2008)
Thank you for the plug about the new Green Wizards, we very excited to get it finally up and 90% running.
(Please bear with the sawdust on the floor as you visit.)
I’ll say more in a later comment but a quick note to the people registering. (and there have been several in the last few hours).
If you get the message that the user name you want is already in use, that means you posted to the old forum. As I have been moving the threads and comments from there to the new forum, I had to create an id account for that name to properly create it.
I could not move your password.
The system has a function to send you a new password but its a bit clunky. The easiest thing to do is send me an email at greenwizard dtrammel at gmail dot com (no spaces). I can send you a temporary password so you can log in. Or if you just have any questions or problems at all.
I’ll be on the site all my free time this next week, and will get back to you as soon as I can.
More later, right now I’m going to try and move as much of the threads about HAM radio tonight, since there seems to be an renewed interest in getting that going.
The Zebra Mussel reminds me of another invasive species, the Asian Carp, which has spread throughout rivers in the Midwest. It also spawned two trends with opposite effects – a decline in water skiing (the carp will jump out of the water when disturbed by a boat engine, and getting smacked in the noggin by a 15 pound slab o’ of fish at 35 MPH is no fun) and the invention of the sport of bow and arrow carp fishing, which some yahoos find a challenge. One effect reducing fossil fuel emissions, the other adding to the practice.
Humans should become more humble.
Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the first two volumes of The Weird of Hali and am looking forward to the third volume. I am waiting to get the printed version (scheduled for delivery on March 1) and in the meantime am rereading volumes 1 and 2. I am surprised how much I missed the first time through, because I kept turning pages ( what happens next?!) I am going slower this time and enjoying even more. Thanks for a very enjoyable read! If you don’t mind revealing, is Belbury a sort of homage to That Hideous Strength?
Everywhere the zebra mussel has spread in the US and Canada the cost has been the extinction of numerous native mussel species. This is especially true in the shallow warmer waters of Lake Erie. Apparently biodiversity does not concern you.
Isn’t climate change also one of those non-linear processes you describe? As global temperature rises, does that not give rise to other processes which could turn the process in the other direction (such as volcanism and more frequent arctic vorteces)?
This is one of your best pieces but perhaps the coming adaptation to global warming is something that results in global cooling.
John, thank you very much for this informative essay, the best I have read from you because it explained something very basic that I did not know (zebra mussels effects) and reminded something about Biology that is underappreciated.
You mentioned: “the resilient ones among us are not to be found among the comfortable classes who are doing most of the yelling about invasive species.” This is important and “the resilient ones” need to build “resilient” communities, like now. Us minority of rational thinkers in my opinion should work together and build resilient communities, even if most of our activities are internet communication based due to distances between us. Already I had one couple visit us in our semi-remote island due to contact via your friendly forum. I invite people on this forum to visit our farm and off grid energy projects in Japan. yugeshima.com
I think another part of this is the environmental movement’s focus on preserving nature exactly as it is now in wildlife preserves. If those are changing, that means we’ve broken it. (Which is just another way of treating Nature as a passive object).
Great post as always. I’ve always felt that the “save the world” narrative didn’t serve environmental causes very well, given the selfish nature of so many people. My younger, more conspiratorial minded self thought that narrative was imposed on “green” movements as a way to weaken their appeal. Why not appeal to peoples natural self preservation insticts with “save yourself” or “save your children”? Even leaving aside the insane hubris of the idea that the earth itself needs saving from us, its certainly not a very persuasive narrative. If not saving anything, how about just making things more pleasant to look at and experience?
Now the “save mankind” type of message is slightly more en vogue (at least regarding climate change), but with an eschatological bent that also handicaps it. Ideas like near tear human extinction, etc. certainly haven’t motivated much change as far as I know.
Regarding conservation of ecosystems and biological diversity, can’t people just admit that they’re fond of certain animals? White tigers, Black rhinos etc…. it would be a tragedy if they died off to be sure. But how many people would lament if Hookworms or other parasites became extinct? And is it a coincidence that the most treasured species are the ones with faces like us?
The Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 congratulate the Green Wizards Association of Auckland upon the occasion of your inaugural meeting and continued success. We extend full recognition and reciprocity to your Association. May your Tower Light ever shine!
This reminded me of a project by George Van Dyne – in the 1970’s who tried to make a complete computer model of a local ecological system.Essentially to make a self sustaining model of a 1 x 1 mile field and all of its inhabitants.
He died in frustration as he could not make the model balance as Nature was not playing by these rules. The more information they gathered, the more chaotic is appeared.
Was it the model that was wrong? Or the assumption that Nature has a balance. I think you are right yet again that the adaptive nature of ecology is something that is difficult to predict and understand in an analytical state outside of wisdom.
Thanks so much for the excellent news of the Great Lakes! You made my day.
Here on my little island in the Pacific, a friend of mine found another fortunate like between an invasive species and habitat restoration.
The local government was going to spray our island with herbicides to get rid of the Scotch broom on the sides of our roads. Some people thought that was a bad idea and offered to pull the broom by hand instead. It worked in that we didn’t get sprayed.
We have far too many Columbian black-tailed deer here as we don’t allow any predators and the deer are starving. Saplings cannot get established here without many years of severe mauling from the deer. My friend found many saplings had grown up in the broom thickets but when we removed the broom, the saplings were swiftly eaten.
Stupid I know but what this means is that many areas of deforested land are now having saplings grow up under the cover of broom thickets.
Reading this, it reminds me of the controversies surrounding mass immigration from so-called Third World countries into the Western nations, including the Hispanic Volkerwanderung in North America and the Islamic Volkerwanderung into Europe.
Here too we see “tough, resilient, adaptable” cultures responding to shifts in the global ecology by moving into the disturbed and increasingly fragile cultural ecologies of the Faustian Culture and its North American pseudomorphosis. It’s even funnier when you consider that so many of those “invasive cultures” are ones that the Faustian Culture invaded, colonized and ruthlessly exploited and now we have sizeable areas of England that are virtually indistinguishable from India or Pakistan, neighborhoods and towns in France that may as well be in North Africa and parts of the US that are for all practical purposes part of Mexico, Central America or Cuba. Ah, the perils of karma!
I expect that Eastern Europe and Russia will do just fine in the long run, especially as the Russo-Slavic Culture comes into its own and shakes off the Faustian pseudomorphosis as Spengler predicted, but it’s likely that Western Europe and Gringostan will have a much harder time dealing with the “invasive cultures” that are already moving in and will be doing so at an accelerating rate as the global ecology becomes even more disrupted.
I see exactly the same dynamic in politics all over the world.
Decision Makers make decisions, expecting everyone else to get on with the program. Everyone else, reacts in ways that are useful to them. Some of these reactions might include coopting or resisting the Decision Makers, eventually resulting in a situation that Decision Makers find inconvenient. Cue doubling down by Decision Makers, cries of “racism”, “hate”, “false consciousness”, etc, and accusations of “violating norms” and “populists abusing democracy”, and so on.
I call this The Fallacy and Tragedy of Democracy Activism: when you empower the masses, they may decide to support you. Or, they might decide to use their power to toss you out the window and install people you hate in power.
A recent Time Magazine issue proclaims on its cover: “Going Beyond Hate”. Well… how about finding out why people hate you, to start with?
Even the resilient, adaptable insect species have begun in the last thirty years succumbing to the poisoning of the midlatitude agricultural landscapes and to climate change in the equatorial zones. It hurts so much to see so much going away without anything even apparently coming in to replace it just now.
Your point about our industrial civilization being engaged in a two-way debate with nature is definitely an interesting one, and something a lot of the “thinking” (I use that word in a somewhat ironic sense) classes could stand to listen to. It seems that, in its twilight years as a global force, modern industrial civilization has developed an odd fascination with control and domination; the shrill shrieks of outrage over the retaliation of nature to our behaviour, for one, but in more social affairs as well, such as the police brutality happening in France to keep the protests under control, or the gentile complacency of the Democrat Party in thinking that braying “Orange man bad!” at the top of their lungs will somehow convince people to join their side. Do you think that the focus on control is merely a symptom of the slipping grasp the industrial powers have on affairs, or has it been going on for longer and just ratcheted up in frequency recently?
Oh gosh, I do hope a wading bird or somebody with a boat hull will make it to the Great Basin before we can invent a chemical solution for mussels on boat hulls or shoot all those naughty birds! I hear Utah Lake used to be a deep vibrantly crystal clear blue lake. I recall the Jordan River that flows from it being an open sewer 50 years ago, and don’t imagine it has changed all that much, despite the biblical name.
And, yes, this is the first time I have heard anything good at all about zebra mussels. Thank you for bringing that up! This is an eminently shareable article to all of my quarreling relatives with different political persuasions. They’ll each see something good in it.
Here in New Zealand we’re slowly learning our lesson in some respects. There’s a introduced shrub, gorse, that has long been considered a noxious weed, controlled with prodigious amounts of aerially sprayed poison. It’s only in the last decade or so that we’ve realised what an amazing plant it truly is in terms of being the first step of regenerating grassland back into forest. Your point regarding filter-feeders and other pollutant clearing generalists is similarly generally well taken I believe. In our popular media for example, we don’t tend to blame the algae for the blooms – rather the farmer who uses far too much nitrogen fertilizer without appropriate wetlands/treatment to filter it out before reaching the local swimming hole.
On the other hand, we’re in the midst of waging a bloody war on rats, possums, and mustelids. Our goal, backed by both sides of the House of Representatives, is a ‘Predator Free NZ 2050’. I confess that I have a degree of sympathy for the project, given their almost total domination over our utterly unique native fauna. Unlike North America, our native species are tremendously old – the Tuatara for example is the only surviving species of its 200 million year old order. The consequences of the presence of the above mentioned suite of introduced (typically purposefully by English colonists attempting to recreate a little Britain) animals seem not to involve pollution cleaning (the forests are almost entirely up-catchment from our towns/agricultural), but rather the slow decline of each trophic level of our unique biodiversity.
I understand that if we were to leave these creatures alone that nature would eventually balance herself out, and new generalist tree species would eventually move into the vacated niches. I understand that in that sense you could describe the project as little more than glorified gardening. Nevertheless, we value our native wildlife, and I can’t see quite see why we might want to keep the possums around in the same way we might the zebra mussels. Perhaps you might have an alternative view?
Thanks for a good post. I recently read ‘The New Wild: why invasive species will be our salvation’ by Fred Pearce. Enlightening! It only reinforced my views that we should leave invasive species alone to do what they’re doing and watch with interest. The more species we leave alive after we’ve all gone (or the majority of us, depending on your viewpoint), the more diversity there will be to set the whole thing going again.
Thank you for writing this.
First let me give a big thank you to everyone who registered today. Please try your log in. If you didn’t get the welcome email, check your spam folder.
Ok, I’ve posted the Green Wizards forum posts on HAM radio that we had back to 2012. There is a ton of information in those past posts and I’m not willing to let them go. Though because the software we used to create the first forum is so old, I have to manually move each and every comment and thread.
It will get done.
For those of you interested in HAM radio check this thread out for fellow Green Wizards.
What Is Your Call Sign?
John likens our present situation with Mother Nature is one of a simple discussion on the porch.
I rather think that we are on the porch BUT Mother Nature left us with a sweet tea and said she’d be right back while she checks her chickens. We’ve had a brief reprise while oil prices are low, the economy has come roaring back, and we have a President that at least pretends to care about immigration and issues of the middle class.
Like a billionaire care about me or you.
Soon Mother Nature will return, and she will walk out on the porch and bat us all with a rolled up newspaper.
Bat us alot.
We are all on the edge of the next stair step down in the Long Descent, and the next few years promise to be rough.
You can get through it if you focus. Take John’s lessons to heart and guard your resources.
Visit us at Green Wizards. We will help you..
There is a rather nice story I heard on a permaculture video recently, although I have forgotten the exact provenance, about a Maori community in NZ who were ‘granted’ back a parcel of their own land, all farmland, to manage themselves. They decided to let it go back to native forest by a process of letting nature do its thing, and of course, the first thing that grew on the paddocks was gorse, a European ‘invasive pest’ species. The local farmers were up in arms about this as they had spent untold thousands and many years on gorse eradication, and could only forsee the end of the world as they knew it – an ineradicable takeover bid by gorse.
The Maori community ignored them and let nature take its course. Over some years, the birds who nested in the safe sanctuary of the prickly gorse pooped out tree seeds which grew up safe within the gorse cover, and over the course of twenty years, a native forest grew up and shaded out the gorse, which died a natural death, as it is a pioneer species for disturbed ground.
The irony is, that the land value of the native forest was much higher than the land value of the original farmland, because native forest in NZ was becoming kind of scarce.
This whole debate, about native versus exotic, as you say, taps into the idea that only humans have agency, and another idea, which I believe I also found on your blog, JMG, that humans regard Nature as a kind of theme park. We want to arrange it neatly and keep it pristine for the tourists so they don’t find ‘weeds’ in the garden. But it has to sit still and just be enshrined forever in its place, ‘out there’ and not come and bother us in the important parts of life, you know, where the money is made.
I am torn because I can see the value of not letting ‘pest’ species into a fragile ecosystem, but also understand that nature is too robust to ever let one ‘pest’ species predominate (including humans). I guess in 5000 years or so it will all have ironed itself out. Humans will have been toppled off the ‘chief invasive species’ list and will have returned to their former role of ‘part of the web of life’ and maybe lions will be back up there as chief predator.
Update. Can’t find the article about plate tectonics ending in 800 million years. This appears to be a fringe hypothesis. Not to worry, though. In about a billion years the Earth will likely be inhabitable for multi-cellular life for one or more reasons having to do with the atmospheric chemistry and solar luminosity. Around that time 27% of the oceans are projected to be subducted into the mantle and that screws up the biosphere big time. So, sorry for the mix-up.
Very interesting. I had no idea there might be a positive side to the zebra mussel invasion. I’ve only heard that zebra mussels were bad, because they were crowding out the native lake species in a similar way that buckthorn is crowding out our native forest species. But trying to control an “invasive species” (well, aren’t we an invasive species too?) like this, once the genie is out of the bottle, is a lot like trying to bail out the ocean. I’ve participated in many buckthorn removal projects, only to watch the buckthorn return a year later, stronger than before. It may be that we’re just going to have to learn to live with these “illegal aliens”. Anyway, as I was reading this post I immediately thought of Chernobyl. After the nuclear meltdown it was assumed the region around the plant would be a dead zone for millennia. Instead the opposite happened. It’s still too radioactive for humans to re-inhabit but today, just 30 years later, it’s teaming with non-human wildlife. Nature is certainly resilient, whether it’s zebra mussels or buckthorn or radiation-tolerant wolf packs. There will always be life forms ready to fill a niche whenever it becomes available. Perhaps, as you say, we’d be better off listening to nature’s responses and trying to learn from them rather than hitting the panic button with each new invasion, trying to pretend we can control her…
I bought and finished Chorazin over this half a day.
I noticed the similarities between this post and the plot of the book — did you also time a ritual to go along with it? 😉
It really says something about the power of the myth of progress that science has been co-opted like this: even though it reveals that progress is nonsense, even many of those who study exactly the things pointing to its flaws can’t see it.
A note on the mealworms eating styrofoam thing—I did some reading and it looks like they convert part of it to CO2 but the solid portion that passes through their digestive systems still contains polystyrene particles, although the hydrocarbon chains are shorter. So not a complete solution in and of itself, but promising. I have no experience raising mealworms, although my red wigglers will process and reprocess their own castings, creating a finer and finer product over time, particularly if you don’t feed them anything new for a time. Not sure if mealworms will do the same; if so, the hydrocarbons might be increasingly broken down over time, which would be cool. Or potentially other critters could play a part, although if they don’t possess the ability to digest the polystyrene themselves, it might just pass through intact. Still, I think I just might try a mealworm bin…
Very nice metaphor/story for your message! I looked up several sources about the zebra mussels and it seems some people (as one of your readers above) give more credit to other factors than to the mussels, but they are still a great example.
@Avery: I don’t know what stories that entomologist on Twitter was referring to, but the study most widely cited that I know of was conducted by a centenary club of lay entomologists of Krefeld, Germany, in natural reserves hroughout Germany. Of course a natural reserve is anything but independent from the surrounding agricultural areas, but the shock message is exactly that this decline occured in supposedly protected areas.
I don’t mean to preach doom for planet Earth, but this decline in insect mass is certainly a reason to be worried as a human being here and now.
We and Gaia are one.
The I that see
The I that be
The I that is,
That I ,I be
A species responsible for golf courses, the Pacific Garbage Patch, and the Three Gorges Dam has some nerve calling another species “invasive”.
Like a few others, I also read Chorazin in its entirety today. I was chomping at the bit since finishing Kingsport well over a year ago, and it did not disappoint! I’m already looking forward to the fourth installment. Do you know of any good resources for learning about those 145 years of American history that are left blank in our narrative? Or about the even earlier parts hinted at in the account of the Martense family book? Those topics roused my curiosity.
“Nature, according to this delusion of ours, is timeless and changeless, lurching through a set of eternally preprogrammed routines that only we can interrupt. Thus the shrieks of outrage when zebra mussels start cleaning up our pollution […]: it’s as though we think Mother Nature isn’t playing fair.”
I think the “shrieks of outrage” you mention likely also have to do with the notion that Nature healing herself would leave a great many would-be “rescuers of Nature” quite out of a job–hence that special existential shrillness in the responses. (The whole situation feels very similar to your “Rescuer Game” sendup from some years back, which nicely julienned just these sorts of dismal, Karpman-esque co-dependencies.)
On top of this risk of sudden unemployment, this ecological self-healing represents, on Nature’s part, a kind of nose-thumbing at many an armchair ecologist’s self-admiring expertise in Matters Natural. But then, coming from the most busybodyish social stratum, of the most busybodyish of civilizations, of the most busybodyish of species, could one really expect any less?
I wonder how the general attitude you’ve sketched applies to climate change. I suspect there really is no qualitative difference at all—Nature will overcome the climate problem in her due time, just not (inconveniently enough) in **our** time. Perhaps climate deniers who cheerily declare the climate system will “adapt” have it half-right—more half-right than they bargained for, so to speak. They neglect that this glorious “adapting” will likely wreck their own livelihoods or their children’s, and will not be sorted out for at least a couple centuries beyond their expected techno-utopian, just-in-time schedule.
As a quibble, I’m not sure I see Nature as “eternally preprogrammed”—this sounds almost like some clockwork automaton–or a set of computations. The world seems odder than this. You have elsewhere said, as I recall, that Nature cannot be a machine, as to be such it would have to have been built by **someone** for a **purpose**. Anyway–
I just wanted to note that your posts always give me much food for thought (though admittedly much of the math is a stretch!). Thanks for sharing your reflections, whatever the mood that generates or accompanies them. I learn a lot and am inspired to push my own thinking.
–Heather in CA
This post is a good reminder that, when conversing with Someone vastly older, wiser, and more powerful, it’s smart to offer some murmured compliments, perhaps a politely phrased request or two, but mostly just to shut up and listen. Shrieking like a spoiled child demanding MORE, or worse, blabbing on self-importantly as if She doesn’t exist, will likely not go over well. As in any conversation, learning something about the person on the other end of the I-Thou exchange seems like a very good idea.
Thanks, JMG, for the continued reminders to get over ourselves.
–Heather in CA
Marcu, congratulations! May the work go well.
Haydar, many thanks for this. Have you considered expanding your discussion of senescence into a general theory of the rise and fall of civilizations? It seems to me that there’s a very similar pattern, along the lines I discussed in my theory of catabolic collapse: the same strategies that enable a civilization to rise guarantee that it will then fall.
Will, I don’t get it either. It’s as though people look up at the stars and think, “Wow, we’re so huge, and they’re so tiny and insignificant…”
Dewey, of course something is off. The kudzu, like the zebra mussels, spreads explosively because the ecosystem is out of balance. Give it a while — meaning, probably, several human lifetimes — and the balance will be restored and the temporary monoculture will be replaced by a more complex ecosystem. It’s just that humans think in such short terms!
Violet, a fine mythic metaphor! Yes, exactly.
Versling, thank you for this! “Holy eco nuts” is great. My wife, who is a fan of the late poet Mary Oliver, mentions that every year when the honey locusts bloomed, Oliver would gather the flowers and make pancakes from them; they’re apparently delicious. I look forward to your panegyric for the zebra mussel; the Internet Anagram Server didn’t give me any really good results, but “invasive zebra mussel” yields “sizable savvier menus” …
Bruce, which is still 140 times all of recorded human history to date. Why are we complaining?
JC, 1) oh, granted — as you may recall, a failed US war in Venezuela was actually one of the backstory details in that novel; 2) that’s certainly what occult tradition has to say.
Violet, I wonder if that’s a useful way of talking about the way that people have gone crazy in the industrial world’s privileged classes just now!
AuntLili, huzzah for the mealworms! Thank you for this.
Kimberly, ten million years from now, the descendants of household cats will very likely be sitting at the top of the food chain maintaining the ecological balance. Franzen is welcome to bluster at them all he wants. (I’ve never been able to stand the guy’s writing.)
Lionel, thank you!
Tom, no question, the perspective of deep time requires effort, and a decentering away from human concerns. Are you at all familiar with the poet Robinson Jeffers? He had quite a bit to say along these lines.
Mac, same arrogance, different object. I hope we get a clue eventually.
Bird, you really have to hunt to find information on the good that zebra mussels are doing, and even when you do, it’s usually by way of an uncomfortable admission bracketed with “The mussels! The horrible mussels!” rhetoric. That’s the really odd thing about it. As for the gas bug, it could literally happen at any moment.
David, exactly. One of the Druid traditions in which I’ve been initiated has as one of its teachings: “Nature is good. Likewise, nature is good.” This does not mean, of course, that the ways of nature correspond to some arbitrarily chosen human notion of goodness. It means that the ways of nature are the basis on which any sane notion of goodness needs to be founded.
Pmg, thanks for catching that! You’re quite correct, of course, and I’ve fixed it.
Samurai_47, exactly. The river doesn’t care. If we want to lace the water with PCBs, so that it concentrates straight up the food chain and gives us cancer, she shrugs, says, “If you want that, why, go right ahead,” and keeps on flowing.
Dwig, they’re all technically on the material plane, but there are different planes and time scales acting in and through them, so you’re not wrong.
Mister N, or she may just let ordinary declines in public health and ordinary increases in mortality take care of us. Mother Nature’s in no hurry, remember.
Disciple, we have no idea what cockroaches believe about the world. I’m quite ready to believe that their ideas are just as giddily unreasonable as ours!
Jaymo, that’s high praise! Pyle’s a profound and worthwhile thinker, and of course he’s quite right about the coyotes, too.
Wolfbay, then the cogon grass will inevitably become resistant to your herbicides, or be replaced by something else even more invasive that can shrug your herbicides aside. Nature does not care that you want to raise livestock on the land you think of as yours; it belongs to her, you know, and no matter what you do, sooner or later, she’ll take it back.
David, you’re quite literally bucking the entire momentum of late industrial society, and also the entire mindset that underlies your own professional training. Yes, it’s going to be a long tough slog!
Ray, and it’s exactly those people who are willing to come to terms with what nature is doing — for example, by using methods of irrigation that aren’t magnets for zebra mussels — who will thrive. Those resistant weeds are busy evolving right now, btw — have you seen the figures on how much Roundup use has had to shoot up in recent years, just to maintain the same level of weed control?
Allan, I don’t have an opinion one way or the other; it’ll be interesting to see what the scientists figure out. One way or another, the beginning and end of the Younger Dryas were sudden enough to make nonsense out of the standard claims that the current round of climate change is anything special. (It may well crush our industrial civilization, mind you, but almost any sudden ecological change could do that.)
Robert, it’ll be a while before the zebra mussel finds its way into our history books. As for kudzu, it’s great stuff — the root produces an edible starch that’s much used in Japanese cooking, you can fry and eat the blossoms, and livestock love kudzu hay (and thrive on it). It’s also one of the most potent erosion-control plants in existence.
Christopher, by all means!
JMA, that’s a very sound approach. Of course “native species” (that is, species that happened to live in an area in the recent past) also have a place, and putting some work into helping them endure through ecological changes is smart.
PamB, it astonishes me that so few people get that!
Niko, good. Glad to hear that sanity slipped in…
Clay, crisp and accurate.
Jlpicard2, interesting. Since I don’t live there, all I have to go on is the information I can get in books and the internet. Can you point me to resources I can use to look into the matter?
Curtis, check out how the catches of smallmouth bass, walleye pike, and Atlantic salmon have gone since the mussels arrived.
Gregg, exactly. The universe is a perpetual dance of change, and it doesn’t concern itself with our wishes and wants. It really is as simple as that.
Avery, the insect story is one of the ones I’ve fielded questions about recently. Wait for ten years, or maybe twenty at the outside, and the same media will be yelling about how the rapid increase in insect mass means that locusts will eat all our food crops and we’re all gonna starve. Cyclical change is so hard for so many people to deal with!
Clarke, thank you!
Avery, yes, exactly. Water hyacinth is another plant that heals waterways and inconveniences human beings. The crusade against it is just as idiotic as the crusade against the zebra mussel.
David, glad to see that it’s up and running! Thanks for this.
Drhooves, okay, that’s got to be the funniest thing I’ve heard this week. I trust that at least some of the water skiers thus whacked by a fish had the grace to shout, “Oh, carp!”
Jean, many thanks for this; I’m delighted to hear that you’re enjoying the books! Yes, the name of Belbury Hall is a very deliberate reference to C.S. Lewis, and there are several others woven into the story as it develops. I did a lot of that — tucking references to other writers’ works, especially but not only authors in the Cthulhu mythos, into my tale.
Paul, the fetishization of biodiversity is another sign of the profound ecological illiteracy of our culture. Biodiversity isn’t good, and it isn’t bad — it’s simply a measure of the stability of an ecosystem. As stability decreases — due to any reason, human action or otherwise — biodiversity declines as resilient generalist species replace fragile specialist species; as I noted in my post, that’s how nature deals with instability. Trying to maintain biodiversity in a period of ecological instability makes the entire ecosystem more vulnerable to sudden shocks and thus to collapse. I wish more people could grasp that simple point.
Lawfish, based on past examples of global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions — there have been quite a few examples of this in the prehistoric past, mostly due to massive volcanic events — what typically happens is that the countervailing forces cut in to slow and then stop the warming process, the planet stays warm for a while, and then enough carbon gets sucked up by photosynthesis and other processes to cool things back down. There’ll be global cooling eventually — we’re still in an ice age, and once the current CO2 bubble runs down the glaciers will get moving again — but that’ll probably be many millennia in the future.
Mots, that’s one of the reasons I’m encouraging people to make contact via the Green Wizards forum — while the internet is a temporary thing, and will unravel as its extravagant energy use becomes unaffordable, while it’s here, it’s sometimes a useful tool.
Kfish, got it in one. That reminds me irresistibly of a Gary Larson cartoon, titled “Wildlife Preserves,” which showed a car driving past wild animals stuffed into glass jars…
Reggie, true enough. The descent of environmental awareness into self-serving sentimentality is a major reason for the failure of the movement.
Michael, the lesson I always took from van Dyne’s failure is that nature is quite simply more complex than we are capable of understanding.
Maxine, the broom is there for a reason…
Baboonery, I ain’t arguing. At this point I’m fairly sure that the Faustian pseudomorphosis in Gringostan (meaning here the US from the Mississippi valley east — west of that is Alta Mexico until you get to the maritime Pacific Northwest, which is something else again — will be replaced over the next couple of centuries with a Mexican pseudomorphosis, out of which the future American high culture will emerge starting in 2500 or so.
Carlos, excellent! You get tonight’s gold star for anticipating part of where all this is going.
Tony, it takes effort and knowledge to get past that sort of short term thinking to see the wider context. It really is worth it, though.
Ethan, excellent! Yes, it’s all the same pattern. My take is that it really has become more shrill of late, because the more history’s self-proclaimed actors tighten their grip, the more of the world slips through their fingers.
Patricia, I’m sure the mussels are heading that way just as fast as they can!
Adam, by all means try to keep the tuataras, etc. To my mind, the crucial point is to do so in a way that doesn’t involve large-scale damage to the broader ecosystem. Nature, however, will decide whether you succeed or fail.
Bev, thanks for this. I’ll want to see about finding a copy of that book.
Ellen, you’re most welcome.
David, exactly. I expect the next really serious oil price spike to hit sometime in the early to mid-2020s, and it’s likely to be a doozy. Make your preparations now and you’re going to be in much better shape when the economy gets whacked again.
Jo, thanks for the story! That’s really good to hear, that the Maori have that kind of good solid ecological sense.
Gregg, last I heard, the steady increase in the sun’s radiative output will boil off the last of the oceans in 1.2 billion years, so one way or another, th-th-th-th-that’s all, folks. So? 1.2 billion years is a literally unimaginable length of time, and whole ages will rise and fall on the way there.
Kurt, buckthorn’s another good example. Study it carefully and you’ll understand why it’s there and what it’s doing to help make the local ecology more resilient.
Alvin, nope. Are you at all familiar with Dion Fortune’s magical fiction? She designed each of her novels to function as an initiation…
Will, ding! We have a winner. Yes, exactly.
Jen, what a fascinating experiment. Give it a try and see what happens!
Matthias, no doubt there were also other factors at work, but the mussels seem to have played a large role.
Simon, concisely stated.
Kimberly, well, there’s that!
Kyle, delighted to hear it. You might want to start with Farley Mowat’s The Farfarers and anything recent on colonial history — there have been some very good books recently, though I had them from the library in my previous town and didn’t keep track of the titles. I’ll be doing a bunch of further research, probably next year, to fill out the role of Greenland in that history (and its role in my story). The sixth volume of The Weird of Hali was originally going to be set in Greenland, but that tale grew in the telling and is now going to be a hefty book of its own, working title A Wind from Hyperborea, set between the fourth and fifth volumes of The Weird of Hali and with a different cast of characters. Justin’s family traditions and the Narrative of Jan Maertens will play an important role in that story.
Sevensec, if you don’t see nature as eternally preprogrammed, congratulations — you’ve got far more of a clue than those who are setting environmental policy these days.
Heather, thank you. Yes, that’s pretty much the point.
Excellent article, as always. My brother pointed out to me the water-clarifying effects of zebra mussels 10 years ago. He wasn’t worried about pollution exactly, he just enjoyed the beautiful clear water). I hope you won’t mind me pointing out things are more complex though.
The real problem with the troublesome invasive species is that they tend to outcompete niche organisms and drive them extinct, which reduces biodiversity, or they create imbalances in an environment that used to be balanced (by pooping indigestible poop because the poop-digesting companion species hasn’t reached the new continent yet, or by eating prey species into extinction). You are absolutely right that given enough time, the imbalances will lead to new species and a new biodiversity, but it’s understandable that people would want to prevent their rare, delicate, niche species from going extinct, partly because those extinctions create even more perturbations in the environment and you can’t possibly foresee what will survive the changes and what won’t, and partly because extinction is really sad.
That said, most people don’t realize the extent of the invasive species in literally their own backyards. My backyard has very few native plant species. It’s largely populated by those European immigrants that like disturbed areas… which shouldn’t be a surprise since a lawn is a perpetually disturbed area. Yes, those immigrant plants were brought here on purpose and yes they do generally have edible or medicinal uses. But honestly, you’ll never get rid of these dandelions and such by poisoning them. The only way to get rid of these invaders is to *stop disturbing the dirt*. (I don’t know what actually gets rid of buckthorn, I am ripping mine out but replacing with fruit trees… which aren’t native either).
Generally, a healthy ecosystem is resistant to invasive species, but unfortunately we don’t have many healthy ecosystems left, so what we end up with is a one-two punch with development destroying ecosystems and then invaders taking advantage of the destruction, getting a strong foothold.
Not all nonnatives are bad, though. Some ranchers imported the nilgai to south Texas (a large Indian antelope), and it has thrived thus far, another herbivore on the grassland (that probably needs more herbivores since the loss of bison and other animals due to human interference). Though we also got rid of the predators for the most part, the nilgai never get out of hand, partly because they are very tasty and can be hunted year round, and partly because they die in a hard freeze (which happens every couple of years or so).
The invasive hogs are a different story. They tend to cause a lot of problems because they aren’t eaten fast enough and don’t die fast enough, and as an added bonus they eat rattlesnakes (and find them by listening), which is causing rattlesnakes to not rattle. They are an example of what happens when an introduced species has no natural predators and too much available food, and these types do a great deal of damage before any balance can be restored (which is our own fault for killing all the predators).
My point is this: the best thing we can do for any ecosystem is keep it as large and unbothered as possible, perhaps while continuing to reintroduce lost species like our foxes, wolves, and mountain lions. That’s the only way to give the original ecosystem enough room to keep as many original species as possible. Everything else is secondary (and needs to be evaluated on a species-by-species basis). But we need to recognize that nonnative does not automatically mean destructive, and we also need to recognize that some nonnatives really are as damaging as we are (to a given ecosystem). Most importantly, we also need to recognize when the cure is worse than the disease.
Thank you for bringing this up, it’s another example of a topic that is far more nuanced than people realize.
JMG and Kurt. What good is Buckthorn doing? I have been fighting it in my grove for a long time. It just seems to shade out all the big tree seedlings. What should I look for to understand it’s ecological value.
You don’t have to go to the complexity of biology. It’s a well established principle in chemistry that if you have a bunch of chemical equations in equilibrium and you push them in a direction (add/remove heat/pressure) equilibrium will shift to try and counteract your action (principle of Le Chatelier/van’t Hoff). I agree with your article but I have more empathy with the comfortable classes. As Pratchett remarked, the whole of human history is a drive to get as far away from nature as possible since nature is cold and uncomfortable.
Here’s a story I saw this morning. What could possibly go wrong with using genetic engineering to try and destroy mosquitos as a species… https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/02/20/693735499/scientists-release-controversial-genetically-modified-mosquitoes-in-high-securit?t=1550742613360 The mind boggles. BTW Kudzu also make a fantastic anti-viral herbal medicine. The only downside being here in the UK it’s illegal to grow it and when you do find it it’s usually been dosed in roundup.
a couple questions.
1. Do you think some life form will take care of all the plastic we’ve dumped everywhere? It seems like our only hope. It’s impossible for us to remove it all, even if we were serious about it.
2. I live in the Alps, where every so often there’s a “reintroduction” of some animal we made sure was gone not so long ago. I’m skeptical though, because for one it’s only the charismatic ones that get all the attention, with no real restoration of habitat for ALL wildlife, and also ’cause we seem to go from one extreme to another, from “let’s hunt the wolves to extinction” to “let’s have wolves roaming as they please, so that once they’re done eating all of our pasture-raised animals (the caged ones are safe) and fearing humans they can turn to eating us if they please”. I’m a bit bitter here cause as a very small sheep farmer I’m trying to advocate balance between extremes not dogma.
Re your reply to Baboonery: if the next pseudomorphosis is Mexican, do you think there’s a chance of Catholicism coming back? Or do you still think it’s headed for failure?
Great post today John, and pricks a sharp pin at the bloated narratives that shape and define modern day society. I stumbled across this the other day.
Intended to be humour, but actually cuts right to the point. If the kids of today were brought on narratives that reflect reality we might actually have a chance. Your project just might help re-inforce that change. Finally a copy of your new tentacles part 3 novel plopped onto my door step today with a reassuring squelsh. A few pages in and I’m hooked already.
All the best, averagejoe.
The zebra mussel case as set out by you is new to me. Thank you. And I think you do right in reminding North America of the rich recovery after the Younger Dryas. You are lucky. The British Isles had a much less rich recovery of species diversity, and the few refugia we regained shrink ever more rapidly since WW2. Some of the factors involved are reasonably conjectured/explained, but see below, times change, suddenly.
Of course I would join you in critique of a wide range of ‘scientific attitudes’. There has been and still is hubris involved. Yes, I worked there and found them by the end intolerable (and not at all reassuring). I remember in particular, objectionable behaviors at a signal conference of the nascent biotechnology industry in California 1994. The lone Union of Concerned Scientists rep (this was America course; smile) tried to argue rationally. The treatment she got however from the ‘group-think’ hobbledehoys was nasty and not at all funny. It was a point of departure for me. Of course UCS was/is, hand waving – the boat has long since sailed, if I may mix my metaphors. But in some curious way I am still consoled that the humble approach lives on.
‘Nature’, we might name her ‘Complexity’ rather than ‘Old Broad’, does ‘sudden’, err… rather suddenly. In some important cases we do not have a clue, and scrambling for explanations is a bit late. Insects – we get reports of the sudden disappearance both of mass and diversity of species over 25 years, worldwide, for different reasons. Even so I would like to record that those biologists who study (ecology) networks of plants and animals have gathered some useful theories and evidence about complexity and inter-dependence, which would be delightful, if one had a lifetime. The literature even so deserves a wide scan. The studies were virtually non-existent when I was at school and they have moved on a very long way from the reports I was asked to put together (‘risk assessments’) back in the 1990s.
But importantly, for me, I want to say this bit about bereavement and perspective. What does time scale mean in our thinking, in our life? All things must pass. In the future sediments there will be further traces of biological evolution including I guess discernible turning points after constructed DNA (‘biotech’) was inserted into the information base by humanity at the beginning of a mass extinction. So how ‘mass’ is ‘mass’? And, quote, “the usual post-crisis burst of adaptive evolutionary radiation” takes, what, the more usual million years? Bereavement can last a long time.
I suspect, JMG, that this posting is the starting point of one of your “deepest dives” online, as the roots to Western society’s jaundiced view towards nature is many centuries old. With apologies to those readers who belong to the Abrahamic religions, I do believe that the predominant viewpoint of God/YHVH/Allah as the only active “creator” and the world as passive “creation” which is separate from God (that is, God is wholly transcendent and not immanent) gradually crept into the European psyche over the course of a couple of millennia. However, it has been only since the closing of the Renaissance that nature was totally downgraded (witness the many plays of Shakespeare where the words “natural” vs. “unnatural” – the latter featuring very strongly in his tragedies). And, of course, the Western intellectual and scientific disciplines picked up this bias and have run with it ever since. To attribute a “will” to nature is not only fanciful but blasphemous and for it to challenge or counter the efforts of “Man” (either the pinnacle of creation or the pinnacle of evolution – take your pick) is unimaginable.
I well remember how my dear old mother, who loved to read the Sand County Almanac and was a nature enthusiast, would in the 1980s tear out any purple loosestrife she could find, even along roadsides, thinking that she was “protecting the environment”. Of course, she wouldn’t listen to her son who told her that it is a lost cause and the invasive species is here to stay – just like cattails found a home in our wetlands long ago.
I have seen first hand the effects of zebra mussels in the waters of my home town along the St. Lawrence River – it turned a far deeper green in the 1990s. The main local “benefit” has been economic, as with the clearer water there is now much scuba-diving tourism in the summer months owing to the large number of ship wrecks that litter the bottom of the river.
It seems that every decade since I was born (and even before) there has been a new invasive species in the part of the Great Lakes region that I call home. The latest is the emerald ash borer, which has devastated my area. While I feel sad to see so many thousands of standing dead ash trees, I also realize that this is the time for massive ecosystemic change to restore balance and it is neither “good” nor “bad” – it simply “is”, so I might as well embrace it and learn from it.
One way or another, I do hope that we as a species will be able to learn to converse with nature as a fellow “subject” rather than as an “object”. Personally, that is what much of my time and attention is focused on.
Dear Ethan La Coursière , By “gentile complacency of the Democrat Party” do you mean ‘gentle’, as courteous and polite, or do you mean ‘gentile’ as in non-Jewish? Democratic screaming about the Orange Menace is nothing but political theater. Where it counts, both parties act as one, as witness the way that both are all in for the outrageous, and, one hopes, failed, intervention in Venezuela–why the Deal Maker in Chief can’t simply work his magic and Make a Deal to buy Venezuela’s oil and let the Venezuelans spend the proceeds as they like, who knows. I note in passing the failure of Hispanic organizations to speak out against the intervention; I would love to learn I am wrong about that.
Oversized Roundup immune amaranth ought to make splendid compost and mulching material. Kudzu is not only edible, can be made into a thickening agent if I remember right, AND I believe is also a fiber plant.
Dear Maxine Rogers, do you islanders not allow hunting? Venison makes mighty good eating. Some state hunting departments will on occasion allow a short doe season when deer populations get out of hand.
@JMG and Kimberly.
Thanks for the story on Zebra mussels JMG; it’s worth some pondering.
May I stick up for Franzen? Kimberly says he is an elitist tool: I don’t agree, and that kind of language has been directed at him by some for a long long time now in a received-wisdom way. It reminds me of the tellingly excessive abuse of Jordan Peterson.
He has been at pains in his essays to set out his very anti-elitist attitude to readers and novel writing, and the “elitist” thing still seems to stick because, like our host, he disdains social media due to its shallowness for communication purposes.
No-one is obliged to like his writing of course, but can I point out that Franzen does not “bluster” at the supposedly ecologically clueless: he is as likely to satirise middle class do-gooders like himself as any other characters. If I remember correctly, the “tool” in the novel Freedom turns out to be the main character Walter who is obsessed with saving birds (one of Franzen’s own interests) at any illogical cost.
Franzen also frequently attacks and satirises liberal smugness generally. I think it is in “Freedom” too that Walter the uber-Liberal’s son moves next door to live with his girlfriend’s gruff working-class republican parents because he can’t stand his own.
In other words, I quite like him and think he gets many undeserved kickings. Though he does definitely go on a bit.
Thanks as always for theses sprawling discussion; back to work for me.
Kyle (and others looking to learn about the rest of American history): You might consider Our Beloved Kin by Lisa Brooks (Yale University Press, 2018), to help fill in one chapter. It’s still on my “get to it soon” list, but comes highly recommended by friends whose judgement I trust.
That’s the first time I’ve seen zebra mussels in a positive light. I remember reading about them in school, as sort of the classic apocalyptic example of Invasive Species Doom.
@Avery: Also, that’s the first time I’ve heard anything positive about water hyacinth! I’m a FL native, and we are thoroughly trained to regard those as eeevil.
Since FL is basically invasive-species-ground-zero for the US… maybe I will poke around and see if I can also find positives for some of those other plagues. I’ve heard air potatoes might be edible. But I have a harder time seeing the positives of things like the Burmese pythons and the Australian pines. Perhaps I’m not trying hard enough.
Greatly enjoyed this blog. I, too, thought zebra muscles were bad guys. What a wonderful service they do for the water and life in the water. As for plants, the knotweed plant is a misunderstood plant much like kudzu has been. Yet its roots have been found to be helpful with Lyme disease. In fact, the plant seems to follow the lyme disease as it spreads.
One question. Twice you mentioned adaptive evolutionary radiation: “after the usual post-crisis burst of adaptive evolutionary radiation, the Earth will again be teeming with critters.” and “Mother Nature braces herself for the shock and gets ready for a burst of adaptive evolutionary radiation once things settle down again.” What is this adaptive evolutionary radiation? Solar? Planetary? Or something else?
Thanks for sharing your time and knowledge.
Ernst Götsch, who has developed a form of Permaculture he calls “Agrofloresta Sintrópica” (Syntropic Agroforestry) in NE Brazil has an interesting take on agricultural pests. He doesn’t avoid pesticides because they’re bad for the food, or for those who ingest it later. He refuses to use them because he believes they are bad for the practice of growing food itself.
He calls pests “allies”. It’s a bit of a shock when you first encounter his concept, but in time it rings true. It’s now been about four years since I took his course, and I’ve slowly learned to do the same.
Basically, leafcutter ants (very common here), aphids, nematodes, and other animals that consume your produce or tree are “allies” because they serve to provide you with a valuable piece of information: They inform you that this is the wrong tree, bush, or herb to plant at this time and at this location. In Syntropic practice, you accept the fact that this was the wrong plant, and plant something else here. If you really want this plant, try planting it somewhere else on the site, where the soil, sun/shade pattern, nearby plants, or humidity cycle is different. Basically, you use these allies (née “pests”) to teach you more about your site and the plants that grow well in each location.
It was difficult at first, especially when a leafcutter colony would wipe out an entire tree overnight. But I’ve taken this lesson to heart, and these days my losses are mostly due to experiments (Will lettuce grow in the summer in this new garden? I guess not.) or stubbornness on my part. And when the leafcutters do strike, they never take out the whole tree, rather just nibbling on the edges and then move on.
@Avery: re: insects:
I’m not so sure about that one. I live in a distinctly un-agricultural area (unless you count pine-tree farms), and the decline in insect populations since my childhood is dramatic. We used to have May-fly season (hundreds of them hanging out on our porch screens), Love-bug season (they’d be caked on the grills of everybody’s cars), and June-bug season– small beetles whose carcasses would rattle the vacuum cleaner any time you cleaned behind the beds. And we had fireflies.
I’ve been back home for four years now, and count myself lucky to see two or three of any of these insects in a year. I get out the camera when I spot a mayfly– I’m nostalgic about them. I’m told that spraying for mosquitoes is what did in the fireflies. May-flies spend their nymph stage in lake-edges and are very sensitive to water pollutants. Lawn chemicals got them. No idea what happened to the love bugs and June bugs, but I remember local car washes advertising heavily during love-bug season. You hardly even hear them mentioned anymore, much less spend time scraping them off the car.
On the other hand, populations of palmetto bugs (think giant flying roaches– they will outlive us all) seem unchanged, the annual migration of gulf fritillary butterflies is still pretty impressive, and there are as many lizards as ever (they’re still finding something to eat)– perhaps even more, now that the native anole and skink populations have been joined by Cuban racers and Mediterranean geckos. The mud-daubers and cicada-killers are still present. Perhaps the (invasive) fire ants are making up for some of the missing mass of flying insects. Hard to say.
But I miss the May flies.
@ Heather in CA
Thank you for your note and you are most welcome. I, too, have found myself pushed into different directions and given considerable nuggets to chew on by the discussions here over the years. I am glad to know that I have contributed in some way as well as receiving the benefits of that dynamic 🙂 This is a wonderfully invigorating community we have here.
Re inertia, change, and the hard slog
Very true. And I likely have unrealistic expectations of myself as to what is reasonably feasible — hardly anything new there!
To extend my tool metaphor a bit, and to paraphrase some of the Dolmen Arch material I’m still working on, what I keep forgetting is that I am not the screwdriver, but that I am rather the one who uses the screwdriver. So setting the screwdriver aside to pick up a more appropriate tool is not the existential threat I feel it to be.
I think future historians will conclude that we live in a ‘dark age’ if you will. We have an abundance of technology, information, and communication, but the flow of real conversation and education is dead. An example would be debt and the western world. We are fiscally insolvent to the point of absurdity. The data is there, but the addiction to lifestyle keeps the blinders firmly in place.
The mainstream information channels are now useless. I come here to your blog so I can see again. These marginalized covert places on the internet will probably birth a revolution. More and more people are detaching from our outward reality and looking for answers where we have never looked before.
Hopefully more of the disenfranchised public will realize that people like you and your blog are metaphorical zebra mussels.
Re our interaction with Nature or the lack thereof
By way of anecdotal experience and a few observations of our society’s continuing efforts to insulate itself from the natural world, my wife and I recently visited with my step-son and his wife up in Green Bay, having a wonderful dinner at a pizzeria in a re-purposed country church. While we were up that way, we stopped in Best Buy, as my wife is looking to upgrade her laptop (and I’m looking to inherit her old one for use as a word processor for my new-found writing endeavors). I took the opportunity to wander about the store, looking over the smart-home gadgetry (LED panels for your wall that synchronize to your music, for example), the various Alexae, the Oculus virtual reality hardware, and whatnot. As we have no TV anymore, I decided to make a game of it and to seek out the largest, most expensive model I could find on the show-room floor. My prize was an 85-inch curved screen going for $3k. (Apparently, the screen curvature is the latest thing for the most immersive experience.)
With stuff like this permeating our culture, buffering our experience with anything outside of our control, it is little wonder that people have a lack of understanding how Nature actually operates.
While I see your point about zebra mussels, species like Drosophila suzukii, a fruit fly from Japan, new to North America, the female of which has a serrated ovipositor and can cut into unripe soft fruit, as a plague given to America by corporate global trade. Last year I picked my wild black cap raspberries and they were full of maggots. D. suzukii can also cut into strawberries, blueberries, plums, cherries etc.
If zebra mussels are about nature cleaning up the mess we have made of lakes, is D suzukii about helping nature cleaning up the mess that Humanity has become? What about non-native carp exterminating native fish species?
Of course I do not blame non-native fish or mussels or plants or bugs for exterminating native species, I blame corporate globalization, which latter ideology I would consider akin to poison.
So if nature is about keeping the species Homo sapiens in check, what is the obligation of individual humans?
William Hunter Duncan
I grew up in Erie, PA. Now, I’m 28 and living in the Ozarks going on four years. I’ve read just about everything you have put out here and the previous blog. You tempered the extremes that Guy McPherson clouded my young mind with. Thank you for writing. Thank you for working your magic.
My tree loving friend really liked the Archdruid Report and we would often talk about the posts that interested us most. He says Ecosophia is more hit and miss. Necessary evolution, me thinks. I love it, one of these days I’ll be following along with the Cosmic Doctrine series!
You once expressed doubt about living in income sharing communities and going through the coming transition. It was years ago, but I remember reading it because at the time I was looking into moving to a ‘hippy’ commune. And I did. Since then, slowly, the world has become more magical and my heart has become warmer.
Once again, thank you John Michael Greer, thank you for doing what you do.
Just one more thought, related to the question I asked (it’s not really relevant to the topic of the post, but it is relevant to the conversation I think): I was wondering why you think America is undergoing its first pseudomorphosis now, as opposed to thinking it will undergo its first pseudomorphosis in the future. And the reason I wondered is because, on the analogy of Greece and Rome vs. Europe and America, America ought to be in its “Rome” phase now (e.g. Trump’s Ceasarism) – so that the real foundation of the next civilization only comes into play once the existing civilization has collapsed. Somehow that makes more sense to me also in terms of the decadence, gigantism, and will to dominance of contemporary America – very Roman.
It’s not all good: mussels have over-cleaned the water, taking everything out to a clarity of 50-100 feet. That leaves no bio-system or food chain for these native fish, or at least a lot less than pre-contact. Granted that’s better than the 1970, but naturally a lot worse than 1470. However, as you say, the ecosystem is slowly adjusting to the sterile over-clarity as well. This loss of all life is a lot more pressing to the locals than the clogging of a few pipes and bilges, but if they want to meddle, they never learn this is what you get! 101 years after Mary Shelly wrote “Frankenstein” and nothing is changed.
What they don’t realize because they are materialist atheists is that the plants and animals slowly aggregate to some sort of social contract. I don’t know why or how, but thousands of creatures like dandelions or crabgrass should be unstoppable, invasive monocultures due to their clear superiority over their fellows. Yet this doesn’t happen. Instead, a new species is introduced, Japanese ladybugs/beetles/knotweed/kudzu, fireweed, and slowly slowly it gets contained, stops taking over and comes to rest WITHIN the ecosystem in balance that still leaves room for everyone.
Scientists believe time begins with their own birth, not realizing nothing they see and think is the “normal” “ecological” baseline was here in 1492: apples, bees, ivy, mustard, carrot, cats, sparrows. Half the species that DID exist then are essentially gone: elm, chestnut, prairie, buffalo, pigeon. Because it happens slowly, it takes a scientist’s lifetime to see a single arc, so the next scientist doesn’t credit this has happened since 1492, or 149,200 B.C. Logically this can’t and shouldn’t happen, except it always does, so they always draw the logical, material conclusion instead of the historical, spiritual one: the plants are TALKING to each other, they each have a species over-spirit, and deals are made to benefit everyone, Gaia, life itself. Intelligent design by God’s angels, if you have a Christian bent. The very next day the next scientist’s ego tells him he’s smarter than all recorded history and this one time he’s right and life-as-we-know-it will end. Rinse, repeat until the Western separation-ego is again checked.
And thank _you_ for introducing me to Mary Oliver. Am quite taken with her work now.
Internet Anagram Server is my favorite. There is magic in rearrangement.
It seems the genus Dreissena contains several species that are considered invasive.
An anagram of that is “Sin Erased,” which is as pleasing as the one you found.
Patricia Ormsby and JMG
Just a note about the Great Basin and Utah Lake in particular. All over Utah boating areas there are signs urging boaters to thoroughly clean their boats to help prevent the spread of the zebra mussel. Lately of greater concern, especially in Utah Lake are the toxic blooms of blue green algae. The last two summers have been hot and the algae toxin has caused problems for boaters and gardeners alike. One of the community gardens I use pulls secondary water directly from Utah Lake for irrigation and two summers ago, they had to turn our water off due to this toxin. Fortunately it was only for a week or so and the garden survived just fine. But until Utah Lake and other water sources are no longer used as the final dumping ground for “waste” this problem will become increasingly common no doubt.
If the zebra mussels are that good at cleaning up lakes and waterways, I can only hope they evade all attempts to eradicate them and they can do their good work in Utah Lake and other western lakes as well (Lake Powell and Lake Mead come to mind). Since most lakes, reservoirs and waterways in the arid west provide water for people as well as agriculture, you would think this would be something western States would be interested in.
An analogous situation may be the introduction of large constricting snakes to the Florida Everglades. Prior to their introduction southern Florida was the only continental humid sub-tropical region that lacked large constricting snakes such as pythons or boas. Had there been a land bridge from Central or South America they would have undoubtedly migrated there sometime during the past 18,000 years when the climate warmed after the retreat of the glaciers that covered northern North America.
Perhaps the real invasive species in the Great Lakes region as well as south Florida walks on two legs.
“He died in frustration as he could not make the model balance as Nature was not playing by these rules. The more information they gathered, the more chaotic is appeared.”
This I believe: There exist systems of sufficient complexity such that the only adequate and predictive model of that system is that system itself.
This is one of those systems.
One of my fondest wishes is to live long enough to see the Great Plains restored to the “Buffalo Commons”. Alas, I don’t believe I have THAT much time left. I wonder what AOC would think about buffalo farts? Would that interfere with her New Green Deal?
I do worry about the idea that we are incapable of killing the earth. That life will prevail. I’ve live my entire life under the threat of nuclear winter, I doubt I think about it but a few minutes a year. So much crying wolf is just noise, but you can still get eaten by a Grizzly.
JMG, I read somewhere that temperature-wise the Earth is headed back to the Pliocene era ie 2.6 million to 5.3 million years ago.
That was the time immediately preceding the Pleistocene. While increased global temperatures may discomfit people living in coastal areas, and may make areas living in equatorial latitudes exceedingly sweaty, somehow life carried on way back when, before glaciers started their periodic marches across the landscape. Human-kind after all got its start back then as not quite tree-climbing ape, but not quite bipedally adept ground-dweller. At least, that’s where fossil evidence is pointing. So, as you say, nature does its thing.
From my own perch as a non-scientist, it seems to me that while evolution is a fact attested to in the fossil record and is playing out right under our noses during individual human life-spans, it’s a phenomenon that’s still poorly understood. While natural selection and survival of the fittest sound plausible as mechanisms to cull populations of organisms, I doubt that we’re even close to the last word on how bio-molecular mechanisms bring about genetic variation. I suspect that there are as yet unknown processes at work within individual organisms, within populations of organisms, and their respective interactions with the physical and surrounding ecology, to either generate new life forms or eliminate those already existing.
But, no matter that we don’t understand it, evolution still works.
Would you believe I hadn’t connected zebra mussels to the recovery of lake Erie? In my defense, it is over the other side of the continent, and all I know about the issue comes from bits and pieces in books.
I am always slightly amused when people say we’re going to destroy the planet. I suppose they mean the biosphere as we know it… not the ball of rock.
I agree with you on generalist species being much better at surviving mass extinction events, and that humans are a generalist species that adapts via culture much faster than our genes would normally allow, so I’m expecting us to survive this as a species. Given how far into overshoot we are, I am also expecting some truly horrific mass dieoffs, and that these may include a lot of us reading this.
I hate the effect certain invasive species have on ecosystems, especially things like Cane toads in australia, or the brown tree snake in Guam, or Bullfrogs locally. They tend to hit the native ecologies like a wrecking ball, and I mourn the species that don’t make it. Post mass-extinction faunae are so much less diverse and exciting, and this effect lasts a long time.
I suspect that earth is going to lose most/maybe all of its warmwater coral reef ecosystems, and ditto the Amazon rainforest. This is like taking a nuke to most of the Earth’s works of art. I know that earth has lost its reef builders several times before, and other reef builders eventually reappeared, but that can take tens or even a hundred million years.
I have eye problems that mean you haven’t heard from me in the comments much, and probably won’t for a while. Screen readers tend not to do comment sections particularly well.
“Jlpicard2, interesting. Since I don’t live there, all I have to go on is the information I can get in books and the internet. Can you point me to resources I can use to look into the matter?”
Here are the requested resources. It appears upon further examination that phosphorus was the the primary problem, and it is a problem again.
https://bit.ly/2EmG85K EPA: Lake Erie Water Quality 1970-1982 Management Assessment (The original EPA link was too long) – Particularly pages 107-108. If you want to see the whole paper, use the “Adobe PDF” icon to the right side of the paper.
@JMA: “The points you raised here are among the reasons I left the ‘ecological restoration’ business.”
There are some people doing great work in that field – e.g., the brave guy trying to reintroduce a different tortoise species in the Mascarenes – but also a lot of people for whom abstractions are far more salient than reality. Exhibit A are the folks who insist that restoration of an endangered species should only be done using populations in the exact area of planting, because the same species even from fifty miles away might be minutely genetically different, and that might make SOME sort of difference, SOMEhow. If the species can no longer be found or reproduce in the target area,the implication is that it is better for it or the habitat for it to go extinct than for it to remain present with a slightly less perfectly adapted genotype. Which is ludicrous, especially since (a) genotypes in an area have always changed over time, and (b) the *climate* is changing so assisted migration to move genotypes north is probably a good idea anyway. The folks saying this are always white but don’t even think of pointing out that they personally should move at least 10 or 20 degrees north to return to the habitats to which their genetics destined them.
Robert Gibson–kudzu has many uses. The leaves are suitable cattle forage, the stems can be harvested for fiber and woven into cloth and the roots produce an edible starch similar to arrowroot. Used in Japanese cuisine to thicken sauces but also seen as suitable food for the ill. On that note it occurs to me that if there is an area in which it needs to be eradicated one could ‘hog it out’ i.e. fence off a portion and turn in hogs to dig out and eat the roots, repeat as needed. My grandmother told me that that was the only way to clear a property on which hops had been grown.
I grew up on the shores of the Great Swamp Erie, as we called back when I was a boy. The Cuyahoga caught fire numerous times, including in 1952 and 1969, since Cleveland was the home of Standard Oil, with its many oil refineries on the banks of the river.
Invasive biology is a neutral actor. Where we live, Hepatitis A** wiped out about 90% of the human population between Cape Cod and southern Maine between 1616 and 1620, opening an ecological niche for a resistant strain (aka: the Pilgrims). The invasive group eventually overshot the carrying capacity of North America, and will be pruned back by a rebalancing of the ecosystem. Who knows what viruses will thaw out in the arctic in the next 50 years? We can mourn the results of new species overwhelming the existent ecosystem, but we better understand we can’t do anything about it. I mourn the loss of the American Chestnut, a key species in the Appalachian ecology of 150 years ago. But the First Globalization brought the Chinese Chestnut to America, and the blight which it happily carried, and that was the end of the American Chestnut.
** The best guess. A pair of survivors from a French ship which wrecked off Cape Cod were the first Europeans allowed ashore by the Wampanoags, and the disease they brought is suspected to have been Hep A. The Wampanoags knew that close contact with Europeans could be fatal, and they refused to allow any ashore, although they traded with the Europeans for fish from George’s Banks. They took pity on the shipwrecked sailors, and, following the maxim that no good deed goes unpunished, suffered badly for it.
@JMG: “have you seen the figures on how much Roundup use has had to shoot up in recent years, just to maintain the same level of weed control?”
Sadly, it’s not just for weed control that use has shot up. Farmers are now spraying large quantities right before harvest to kill the crops themselves and allow them to desiccate – it means quicker, easier harvest – and LOTS more Roundup, over twenty times as much, persisting into the processed food. The stuff is a carcinogen and endocrine disruptor and kills essential gut flora. We’re all rats in a giant lab experiment.
You’re oversimplifying the improvement of the water quality in Lake Erie. The 1970s saw two other key events that had a major impact. One was the passage of the Clean Water Act, and host of other environmental legislation imposing controls on the use and disposal of many chemicals. The second was the beginning of globalization and the phenomenon of the Rust Belt. Paying employees a middle class wage and paying some of the costs of polluting encouraged companies to move where they could pay people less and pollute more. That had the effect of closing many of the factories there were causing the pollution. However, there is still nutrient runoff from agriculture, which is causing algae blooms in spite of the zebra mussel. For example, the drinking water supply of the future capital of the Lakeland republic was shut down for a while due to one in 2014 (https://www.toledoblade.com/local/2014/08/02/City-of-Toledo-issues-do-no-drink-water-advisery.html).
I’m still marveling at how much the myth of progress distorts the world science reveals. History sure has a sense of irony, planting science in one of the few cultures that would react poorly to what it reveals…
The really disturbing part is that male mosquito are a key pollinator. This won’t end well.
I heard from a friend of mine in marketing that several large agribusiness companies are actively involved in making it illegal to kill predators, precisely because it will force livestock breeders who don’t factory farm out of business. They’re apparently quite open about it privately.
I’ve noticed that our society has a certain narrative it likes to use when talking about animals. In this narrative, one species is made the protagonist of the story and all other animals are seen as good, bad, or mindless based on what sort of relationship they have with the protagonist. Documentaries, movies, or books that focus on cats, for instance, will often anthropomorphize cats, making them relatable to us, while portraying mice as mindless animals and dogs as dumb brutes. Media that focuses on mice, on the other hand, will more likely portray cats as vicious predators.
I saw this narrative in action in a video I watched on the eradication of goats from the galapagos islands. Here the galapagos turtles, who were being outcompeted by the goats, were given the role of protagonist and the goats the role of oppressor, so of course the goats had to be dealt with for the good of the turtles, and the genocide of the islands’ goat population is a very good thing. That the hundreds of thousands of goats might object to their eradication is irrelevant, since they’re just the evilly evil animal.
It occurrs to me also that this narrative is very similar to the oppressor-savior-oppressed narrative that you pointed out is used by the ruling classes as a tool.
@ Jlpicard2, nice to see a neighbor on here. I’m originally from Geneva. I agree that Lake Erie wasn’t dead, but I think a good part of that (along with EPA and Clean Water Act) was TrueTemper and many of the other factories who used Pinney Dock there in Ashtabula moving to Asia. True Temper moved when plastic handles started being used on garden tools instead of oak (Japan only had bamboo). I guess you could be completely right and I got it backwards, first the regulations and then the moves due to increased costs from them. I know SCM and the chemical plants that are still there started using settling ponds instead of direct discharge into the lake. Here’s hoping the pig iron plant coming next year or future rounds of deregulation don’t start another round of polluting.
What excellent writing and sense.
As a government ecologist, I have long gotten blank stares, disgust, and indignation in response to my common quip as whatever invasive species disaster is being brought up by my colleagues
“They’re native now…”
Thanks for the great article.
Carlos M wrote
Decision Makers make decisions, expecting everyone else to get on with the program. Everyone else, reacts in ways that are useful to them. Some of these reactions might include coopting or resisting the Decision Makers, eventually resulting in a situation that Decision Makers find inconvenient. Cue doubling down by Decision Makers, cries of “racism”, “hate”, “false consciousness”, etc, and accusations of “violating norms” and “populists abusing democracy”, and so on.
Well wouldn’t you know it, but the MSM is now trying to brand the Giles Jaunes (“Yellow Vest”) protestors in France as anti-Semitic, based on a single incident involving a few idiots yelling some nasty things at a well-known Jewish public intellectual. It’s long been my experience that when the liberal establishment starts trotting out the race card, its a sign of desperation on their part.
This is a lovely essay, and I love the idea of the zebra mussels cleaning up after folk. Although many here testify they have never heard anything good about zebra mussels, I have to credit Stephen Harrod Buhner for first bringing the positive case for invasive species and their habits (including the zebra mussel) to my attention. In addition to his general amazement at the apparent good intentions, and underrated good effects, that “invasive” species can have, he puts the whole issue into pot kettle territory – ie, as a species, we’ve no standing to be calling any other species “invasive”.
But your basic point, that “our culture,,, is obsessed by the false belief that nature can’t adapt to our actions… Nature, according to this delusion of ours, is timeless and changeless” has given me a different set of tools for using to look at it. I would like to be respectfully having that conversation already. Attention to the use of my ears and heart for listening would be a good start. 🙂
One last thing. Buhner has often spoken of his fondness for Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) in his Lyme herbal protocols. Whereas here in Donegal County, the passion to extinguish every scrap of Japanese knotweed blooms bright and true in the breast of every local county council official. Cycling to and from work, I frequently pass signs in the roadside hedges that say: “Japanese knotweed marked for spraying – Do Not Cut”. And then pass a swathe of blackened stems and slimy earth. I’m studying this plant’s medicinal benefits just now, even though I have no idea whether I will be able to locate any unsprayed patches to harvest. However I’d be interested to know if you, or if anyone here, has knowledge of its ecological benefits.
Woohoo! Go, zebra mussels! This is genuinely the best news I’ve heard all year (and I mean an actual year, not just from the start of 2019).
I wonder what ways other so-called “invasive” species might be helping us. Here in the UK, commonly referenced “invasive” non-native plants that people get riled up about include Himalayan Balsam, and of course Japanese knotweed. But if they’re growing here, there must be something they’re doing that other plants aren’t. I think I heard somewhere that Himalayan Balsam is actually loved by bees, for instance.
Then of course there are the various native plants that are a little more vigorous than others, like dandelions (at this point I am genuinely confused who WOULDN’T want them in their lawn, seeing as they are both pretty and edible), mint (I keep meaning to just randomly seed some around our garden or something, despite my mother’s warnings to only ever grow it in a pot…), and brambles (yes, they spread like anything, but… free blackberries, and I can also imagine them having a similar effect to the gorse and the like mentioned upthread).
It breaks my heart every time I see someone spraying herbicide on perfectly innocent roadside flowers. I saw a local farmer spraying herbicide on some brambles even though they’re not even in a field with farm animals in, they’re half on a section of his land that had by-now-established trees planted as part of some sort of conservation-related grant, and half poking into our garden (and we trim them back with secateurs or whatever when they get too bushy).
Nature will win in the end, though. Thinking we can control her is pure hubris.
It is a nice way to focus on the central piece of the conversation with nature…she is a lot more complicated with a lot more options for her next response than we can imagine. The reason to make conservative moves is that the likely responses are known because they have been tried before. When you make radical moves like dumping pollution into the rivers or atmosphere, it is very hard to know what to expect. It seems a lot of the debate is between groups who think they have nature figured out and it is very hard for sane voices to effectively point out that real solutions require us to go back to ways of living harmoniously with nature that are known to work, largely because we are not smart enough to engineer the ecosystem and have things turn out well.
Sorry, but you have hit on one of my pet irritations with the English language, “The kudzu, like the zebra mussels, spreads explosively because the ecosystem is out of balance”. The phrase the “balance of nature” has a lot to answer for in the Western minds view of nature. It gives the idea that nature can be perfect as in “perfect balance”, that a balance can easily be disturbed, and that the balance can be irredeemably lost with catastrophic results. It has contributed to the idea that all indigenous nature is fragile and has to be protected from invasive species (mostly those which inconvenience man) which suits the profit interests of some. Few invasive (novel) species spread explosively, when they do it is because there is a large resource going unused in that ecosystem or they have no natural predators and their competitors in that ecosystem do. Balance gives the wrong image of what is going on.
If I recall correctly I think you made the same argument in Retrofuture about the inability of the Western political and media class to understand that the other side can learn/adapt in regards to foreign relations, and are not puppets that can be manipulated to there purposes. Not surprising that such delusional thinking is showing up elsewhere.
I think you may need to add a third category to the civilisation cycle; create minority, dominant minority, delusional minority? i.e. the civilisation is rapidly collapsing, and they still think they are masters of the universe and great days are just around the corner again, MAGA!
Best regards, good essay on humans tripping over their feet as usual.
Hi. JMG. I recently discovered your blog, and your books, and in general agree with your ecological perspectives. I am thankful for your efforts to educate the public as to what we are facing in the future. I do want to say, though, that I have lived within 30 miles of Lake Erie my entire life (50 years now) and Lake Erie was definitely not dead from 1975 to 1995, when my family fished every weekend in the Toledo to Port Clinton to Sandusky area. It was rare when we didn’t have a cooler full of panfish (crappie, bluegill, bullheads, catfish) when fishing from shore or game fish (perch and walleye) when out in my grandfather’s boat. Do not fish but a few times a year now, but the fishing is still excellent. Only issue is algea due to farm runnoff. It is a major issue though.
@JMG, jlpicard2 – it is saddening to hear that Lake Erie’s water quality has taken a nosedive in recent decades. Back in 1988 I took a geography university course that was focused on pollution and the research topic that I chose was eutrophication of the Great Lakes. Back then the joint efforts of USA (mostly the states of Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York) and Canada (Ontario) was proclaimed to be a success story because of the various efforts to reduce phosphorus getting into rivers that flow into the Great Lakes. I’ve never revisited the issue until now. However, I can say that a major contributor to the phosphate loading of surface waters in these states and province is the growth of gigantic factory farms – especially hogs and poultry – in the region since 1990. The single-point concentration of manures is astounding and in heavy rains (which are becoming more common) a huge amount of untreated animal sewage makes its way into the watersheds. Since phosphorus is the nutrient that is in short supply under natural conditions, when the phosphorus levels go way up the algae blooms, blooms, blooms! A sad situation, really. And another reason to detest these “unnatural” farms (which I prefer to call “Satanic Meat Mills”) that litter the countryside in Lower Great Lakes country!
I hope you don’t mind that I read your posts in my head in Peter O’Toole’s voice…
JMG et alia’ll:
I’m having fun with Phil Harris a bit here, as he used to comment at my blog occasionally, the one I doodled at for 7 years, the subtitle of which was “the silver lining of energy descent.”
Recent headlines have shown the world, after a century of absence, the return of the African black panther. We here in North Georgia have witnessed firsthand the return of a tawnier panther (mountain lions), photos and all. Wolves are making a comeback everywhere. I have personally observed snakes and birds recently that I haven’t seen since childhood, if ever. The list goes on.
Top predators like that don’t reemerge on the heels of massive declines in insect populations. They eat things that eat eat things that eat mountains of insects.
One of the great bright spots to follow peak energy is the loss of humanity’s ability to frack things up. Whether we see that or not, whether it ever gets reported or not, energy descent is good for non-human nature. And that is the silver lining I was always eager to discuss in my late blog.
Cheers everybody. Great post and discussion!
In the Geography books that I began reading in the 70’s, the formerly held theory of Geographical/Environmental determinism (asserts that human history, culture, society and lifestyles, development, etc are shaped by their physical environment. Geographical determinism understands human social action as a response to the natural environment.) was being scoffed at as completely irrelevant due to man’s technological abilities. The “new” philosophy/insanity rejected the former as hopelessly outdated. Back in the day (boo hiss) me and my friends used to frequently upset the sand out in the Anza-Borrego and associated desert areas east of San Diego. I was plenty aware that a broken bike or an empty gas tank put me right back into the desert that has always been, is, and will always be (until refilled by water). I could never understand how these oh-so-smart guys could be making the claim that Geographical determinism no longer mattered. Of course it mattered, even in how you adapted or “made nature adapt.” Thankfully, I didn’t often listen to anyone, anyway – still don’t.
FWIW, I think you are right about the reemergence of the Mexican Culture and the likely role it will play in the second pseudomorphosis of the North American Culture in its Pre-Cultural phase, which we seem to be in the very early stages of right now. The ongoing revival of the Mexican Culture reminds me a lot of Toynbee’s discussion of the Syriac Culture, which was his term for what Spengler called the Magian Culture. Toynbee pointed out that the Syriac Culture was conquered and absorbed into the Hellenic Culture but eventually managed to free itself over a period of several centuries. Even more astonishing, with the rise of Islam, the Syriac/Magian Culture managed to conquer much of the Hellenic Culture and successfully absorbed it. I wonder if we might see that type of historical pattern repeat itself but this time in North America.
Also, do you have a rough estimate for when you expect the Springtime of the Russo-Slavic Culture to begin?
Water hyacinth, as mentioned above by Avery, is another invasive plant causing many problems. Like the zebra mussel, it likes polluted waters and helps clean them, at least until it becomes overgrown. But, even so, it has benefits. The following article sums it up: http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/e/eichhornia-crassipes=water-hyacinth.php
It seems to me that in many cases ( good management rather than eradication attempts (that frequently backfire and create and even worse problem) is the key to dealing with invasive species (among other things).
A situation similar to the zebra mussel and Lake Erie is currently playing itself out on
Mount Washington in New Hampshire, the tallest peak in the Appalachian chain. Its upper slopes
along with those of nearby peaks harbor the remnants of an alpine plant community left over from
the Ice Age. Like plants on islands, they have developed their own characteristics and are now unique to the White Mountains.
The hiking craze of the 70’s put this fragile ecosystem at risk, thanks to all the trampling boots and
grabby flower pickers. Efforts by the Forest Service did cut back on the damage but now their work being undone (thanks to global warming) by a humble Eurasian immigrant known as the dandelion. With growing seasons getting gradually longer and warmer, the dandelion has begun making inroads in places on the mountain where formerly the weather had been too brutal even for this hardy herb. Now alpine plants are being elbowed out by the newcomer.
Naturally the Forest Service is diligently trying to pluck up these bumptious plants as fast as they
pop up but as anyone with a lawn knows all too well, this is an exercise in futility. Even if they
succeed in keeping the dandelion at bay the warming climate is taking its toll on the alpine plants struggling to survive and the ecosystem which made it possible for them to persist to the present day will likely vanish in the next few decades in spite of efforts to preserve it like some fly in amber.
Dandelions, however much they are loathed by homeowners and Forest Service agents, can be beneficial to soils. Their wide-spreading roots loosen hard-packed soil, aerate the earth and help reduce erosion. The long taproot pulls nutrients such as calcium from deep in the soil and makes them available to other plants. It looks like they are the harbingers to whatever new ecosystem is coming to take the place of the old.
Hang on, I’m a little confused about something. The disruption of biotic communities are a major problem if you’re one of the species that is in some way dependent on those biotic communities. Obviously, we’ve done a fair bit of disruption ourselves and screwed over many of the communities we’re dependent on, but that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be worried about it. Sure over the long term these things will sort themselves out, but that still leaves the short and middle term to deal with doesn’t it? Why shouldn’t we be concerned about that?
With regards to ocean levels and plate tectonics, I remember reading a while back that the geologists had discovered that 750 million years ago, global sea levels were around 1000 feet higher than they are today. The average depth of the ocean today is 12,100 feet, with much of the ocean consisting of deep, abyssal basins which very in depth between 10,000 and 20,000 feet below sea level. So unless subduction rates increase considerably in the future, I doubt we will see anything close to 27 percent of the oceans absorbed into the Earth’s crust over the next billion years. If anything, subduction rates should decrease over time until plate tectonics ceases entirely. It’s still an open question among geologists whether that will happen before the gradually increasing luminosity of Sol evaporates what’s left of the oceans and renders that a moot point. It is very likely there will be a combination of increasing luminosity evaporating more and more water from the surface, subduction of water into the mantle and a slowdown of plate tectonics acting in a complex feedback loop.
I have also read that geologists have discovered entire oceans deep inside the Earth’s mantle based on seismic data, some as far down as 700 miles. The water apparently remains in a liquid state in spite of temperatures of several thousand degrees due to the very high pressures present in the mantle. Astronomers believe that Uranus and Neptune have oceans thousands of miles deep maintained by the same phenomenon.
Thank you John for the mention of the Green Wizard site. I have and a few others, been working long and hard to get the new site up and useful in promoting Green Wizardry.
[Rest of post deleted by the author’s request; long hours laboring away at the dreary tasks involved in running a forum would make most of us grumpy, too. — JMG]
The book on the “invasion ” of new species as the glaciers receded is “After the ice age” by E.C. Pielou. The local library had a copy, and it’s quite the eye opener.
Jessi, as I noted above, biodiversity is not necessarily a good thing. It’s simply a reflection of the stability of the environment within which an ecosystem exists, and it normally declines whenever a formerly stable environment becomes unstable. That’s what’s going on now. It’s a normal process, and while we may not like it, it’s going to continue until the biosphere stabilizes — at which point the invasive generalist species will undergo evolutionary radiation and generate a lot of new species adapted to the new conditions.
Will, see if you can find some good sources about its life cycle and the environmental conditions that favor its growth. All I find online is people yelling about how it’s eeeevil — that is to say, the usual invasive-species rhetoric.
Lievenm, a good chemical analogy! As far as getting away from nature, the happiest times in my life have all been times when I was close to nature, so I don’t have anything like as much sympathy for the privileged as you do.
Mr. O, oh dear gods. This is going to end so badly…
Gaiabaracetti, there are already microbes evolving the ability to eat some plastics — I’ve read several reports of microbes found in industrial-waste ponds that are quite comfortable gnawing on plastic. If microbes pick up the habit more generally, though, a lot of people are going to be in deep trouble — imagine everything from car tires and synthetic fibers to plastic wrap and artificial heart valves turning into blackish goo…
As for reintroductions, to my mind that’s a very mixed bag. You have to start by rebuilding the ecosystem from the bottom up, or your reintroduced wolves will have nothing to eat but your sheep.
Monk, the resurgence of the Mexican great culture will involve a major shift in religion, and I think we’re already seeing that with the rise of Santissima Muerte as the central figure of a massive new wave of religious devotion. No doubt the next Mexican religion will borrow heavily from Catholicism, just as Catholicism borrowed heavily from classical Pagan religion, but the Catholic church is losing ground dramatically all over Latin America these days and I don’t see that reversing.
Averagejoe, that’s funny, in a bleak sort of way. To my mind, though, that sort of thing is just as unrealistic as the more standard onward-and-upward blather, and it serves the same purpose of foreclosing ideas of change. I should probably do a(nother) post on this one of these days. Glad to hear the tentacled horror arrived and is claiming another victim!
Phil, yes, bereavement can last a long time. Learning to get used to a world of constant change can help us deal with it, however.
Ron, good. Yes, we’re going to be talking about the way that theological notions of the relation between God and creation were hijacked beginning in the 18th century and used as the basis for a wholly dysfunctional notion of the relation between Man and nature — with us, of course, dolled up in Jehovah’s cast-off garments. More on this as we proceed.
Morfran, fair enough; whether or not Franzen is an elitist tool isn’t something that concerns me; I simply don’t enjoy his novels — and of course that’s purely a matter of personal taste. Some of the things I do enjoy are pretty dubious!
Methylethyl, definitely do look around. I wonder if the Burmese pythons will start making life harder for the feral swine…
Linda, yeah, I was talking in ecology jargon there, wasn’t I? “Adaptive evolutionary radiation” is what happens when a species gets into a new environment that has a lot of empty ecological niches. The species subdivides, and different populations evolve in different directions, becoming new species adapted to as many as the empty niches as they can find.
Have you heard of the finches on the Galapagos Islands who inspired Darwin’s theory of natural selection? A long time ago, a finch or two — it may have been just one female who had mated but not yet laid eggs — was blown over from the South American mainland to the Galapagos islands, which have very few native species. Her offspring spread across the islands, and over time evolved different shapes of beaks and behavioral specialties. This variety grew thick beaks to crack seeds, that one took to insect-eating, and so on — they’re all separate species now. That’s adaptive evolutionary radiation — the new species flow out of the old one in different directions like rays from the sun.
Jose, that makes perfect sense to me. I know of biodynamic gardeners who use weeds to tell them what’s lacking in the soil, and “control” them by using soil additives to bring things into a balance that favors the crop rather than the weed.
David, and that’s another thing that our culture shoves at us all the time — the habit of defining ourselves by our economic role, and not seeing that the role is something we can put down at any moment.
Dave T, I think future historians who say that will be quite correct.
David, excellent! As we’ll be discussing down the road a bit, that habit of mediation is a major issue. More as we proceed…
Whd8, as I noted in my post, nature’s processes do not take our preferences into account. Those flies are very inconvenient to us, but they’re part of the process by which the planet is dealing with the ecological instabilities we’ve set in motion, and trying to solve the problem with poisons is just going to make it worse. As for the obligation of individual humans, to make sense of that we’re going to have to go very deep into the concepts of moral obligation, of morality itself, and of our place in the greater cycle of life. More on this as we proceed!
Pinetree, you’re most welcome. Delighted to hear it.
Monk, America is a cultural colony of Europe, and like most cultural colonies, it’s getting the standard changes a little in advance of the homeland — thus we’ve got our Donaldus Caesar while the equivalent figures in Europe aren’t yet visible on the scene. (Give it a decade or two.) Our Caesarism is simply a reflection of trends in the Faustian world, just as you have Caesarish figures in areas influenced by the classical world a little before you have them in Rome.
Jasper, if that’s so, how come populations of smallmouth bass, walleye pike, and Atlantic salmon are steadily increasing? Those are apex predators, and the fact that they’re being caught in larger numbers year over year shows that they’ve got plenty to eat — arguing that somebody’s missing something in studying the Lake Erie food web. That said, I agree wholeheartedly with the rest of what you’re saying — and we’ll be talking about more of that as we proceed.
Versling, I love it! I just ran the full scientific name of the zebra mussel, Dreissena polymorpha, and got among other things “Holey norms disappear,” “Slippery morons ahead,” and “Honors appeared slimy.” Oh, and “Misplayed harpooners.”
Kay, I suspect part of the reason they’re terrified of zebra mussels is that any machinery that moves water through pipes will get blocked solid by the mussels. I can imagine what that would do to the pipes that bring drinking water to large Western cities!
William, well, all species are invasive species, since not one of them was here two billion years ago!
Dana, I would love to see that as well. Don’t expect “Green New Deal” rhetoric to include anything so sensible, though.
Dennis, of course you can get eaten by a grizzly; when my wife was a little girl, her pediatrician died that way. The grizzly’s descendants are doing fine up there in the Bitterroot range, and the same will be true of the Earth.
Roger, we seem to be headed at least to Pliocene temperatures, and maybe warmer than that. The thing to keep in mind is that the Earth has been a hothouse jungle planet for most of the time since multicellular life evolved; we’re in an unusually cold period now — under normal conditions, glaciers do not exist on this planet. Of course a reversion to the norm would squash industrial civilization like a boot descending on a roach, but it’s not going to inconvenience the planet any.
Pygmycory, sorry to hear about your eye problems! I hope those improve. As for the rest, exactly, but that’s the way ecological change works, of course.
Jlpicard2, thanks for these. If phosphorus levels are picking up again, I’d expect to see zebra mussels start to outcompete quagga mussels…
Peter, thanks for this. Exactly; it’s a little amusing to see one invasive species making so much fuss over other invasive species…
Dewey, I ain’t arguing.
Mike, well, this is a blog post and not a book on the history of Lake Erie water quality, so some degree of oversimplification is hard to avoid. Still, so noted.
Will, I ain’t arguing there either.
Valenzuela, thank you for this! You’re quite correct, of course — it’s our old friend the Rescue Game! That earns you tonight’s gold star for perspicacity.
Mog, thank you.
HippieViking, good for you. Maybe it’ll sink in one of these days…
Scotlyn, I’ve also read Buhner’s comments about “invasive species,” and found them a welcome dose of common sense.
L, exactly. I’d like to encourage you and anyone else who’s interested to do some research and find out what ecological benefits your local invasive species provide.
Ganv, ding! We have a winner. Exactly.
Philip, er, I don’t see those implications as necessary at all. We all know the difference between a state of balance and a temporary loss of balance, and these do a very good job of helping people grasp the difference between the relative stability of an undisrupted ecosystem and the sudden shifts that happen when that stability has been disrupted. Still, I’ll assess the phrase and see if there’s another useful way to talk about it. As for the delusional elite — yes, that does need a label, doesn’t it? Hmm…
Ecodad, thanks for the data points!
Ron, and thanks for these data points as well.
Tripp, delighted to hear that painters have found their way back into your end of the country! As for your broader point…I wonder. Is it possible that the decrease in insects has happened because of a rebound in the various things that eat insects, so that there aren’t such vast swarms of undigested biomass flying around?
Coboarts, I remember the same delusional claims. Even then it struck me as preposterous hubris.
Baboonery, that’s exactly what I expect to see here — the Mexican culture casting off its Faustian pseudomorphosis and absorbing a great deal of territory currently part of the Faustian culture sphere. As for the springtime of the future Russian great culture, the estimate in old occult writings was that it would begin sometime in the 22nd century, if I recall correctly; whether they’re right or not is a good question. I’d watch the Volga basin for the first signs of stirring, though things won’t really take off until the center shifts to the valleys of the Ob and Irtysh after the Arctic Ocean becomes ice-free, the lower reaches of the Ob stop being waterlogged as a result of ice buildup, and maritime trade across the Arctic Ocean turns that into the new Mediterranean.
PatriciaT, bingo. Inviting it to join the dance is a much more successful strategy than trying to shove it back out the door.
Jeanne, that’s a fine example. As climate changes, those ecosystems will necessarily change, and yes, that means that plants suited to a colder climate won’t remain there. As for dandelions, what a wonderful plant that is!
Varun, sure, be concerned about it — but don’t treat every sign of natural ecological change as a threat to be fought with poisons. Adapting to the changes is more successful than trying to tell nature not to do what she’s going to do.
Baboonery, that seems plausible to me. I expect most of the ocean loss to happen by way of increasing solar radiation.
David, just remember that it’s a lot easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar…
Mike, that’s an excellent book. It’s been shoved into the memory hole by a lot of people these days, since it talks about the approach of the next ice age, and it’s become a rigid dogma in some circles that no serious scientist ever predicted that — and of course Pielou was a first-rate scientist.
uses for Australian pines (apparently casuarina and allocasuarina spp) as found by an Australian – indigenous people opened the seed cases over fires and turned the tiny seeds into a protein rich ‘bread’, they also drank the sap and ate the gum, and drank anti-viral/anti-bacterial teas made from the needles. The fibrous bark can be turned into rough cordage for weaving fishtraps and things or tannins extracted for tanning hides and preservation/dyeing of cloth. Given the right symbiotic bacteria they make excellent nitrogen fixers and their nitrogen rich needles make very good mulch. The fast growing, hard timber is very good for a wide variety of uses as well as very energy dense firewood. In Australia, their seeds are necessary to the fertility of a couple of iconic threatened species of cockatoos.
When doing ecological restoration work they are a super tough plant able to survive under two quite different conditions – drought prone heavy clay hillsides and planted directly into flowing water anchored by large rocks, gravel or sand. The first use means they are good for holding bare clay hillsides and they are fire suppressant unlike most native alternatives, which reduces the risk of a future soil sterilising firestorm in your newly planted forest. A good watering-in yields an 80% survival rate with no follow-up watering or tree guarding required in my temperate area.
The second use is particularly useful when trying to anchor the rocks, logs and straw bales in ‘leaky weirs’ against floods while starting to restore eroded water courses and chains of ponds. Plant by plunking into a mid-stream pool of water or wet sand on a creek bank and sticking a rock on top of the roots. Again 80% survival, no watering required. Reinforce by planting reed species once debris choking the weirs starts retaining water in ponds between floods. Poplar and willow do exactly the same thing of course (and are even easier to plant as they grow from cut poles) but are illegal/severely frowned upon in Australian environmental restoration work due to their invasiveness here. If you are doing guerilla restoration work then just the casuarinas by themselves will create a water slowing leaky weir given time, avoiding the need to place illegal ‘structures’ in streams.
So, in Australia, a very valuable collection of tree species.
With the talk of a return of Mexican culture — something I can definitely see — I’m curious what the central idea of prime symbol of Mexican culture is and how that will play out in an American pseudomorphosis thereof. I’ve searched online and through my as-yet-unread ebook copy of Decline of the West and can’t see that Spengler ever said.
Two data points seem relevant, but I’m not sure what to make of them:
In Aztec mythology, we’re living in a Fifth Age created by the self-sacrifice of the Fourth Age’s deities and sustained by ongoing human sacrifice.
The cult of Santa Muerte is incredibly popular among precisely the parts of Mexican society with least incentive to follow the lingering Faustian pseudomorphosis there. It’s also slowly breaking away from Catholicism and it seems quite possible that it could eventually overtake it.
Whoa calm down. I work really hard to reduce my impact on the environment, yet I did not join the website. I was seriously considering it, but your tirade is very discouraging. I’m more than happy to continue doing what I’m doing without spending a bunch of time on a website.
Don’t jump to conclusions.
We are told that plastic waste will be with us forever. Yet he bottom of the plastic pail which I use to hold food scraps in the house before composting, is rotting through. Others probably see the same. Not to argue for plastic pollution, just to point out that nature always does what she does, even when confronted with novelty. She’ll take care of our mistakes long before we do. Best we concentrate on using LESS, and stop distracting ourselves with the idea that we will ever tech our way to remedies for our errors.
re useful invasive species
when much younger and more foolish I misguidedly purchased 100 acres of former pastoral farming land (about 30% bush, the rest grassland), with a vague plan to run some kind of farm. I thought that our new land had done a great job of recovering from a hundred years or so of overgrazing – we were told by the previous owner that it had been grazed and eroded down to the subsoil clay layer for many years when he bought it 15 years before (it formed a station’s ram paddocks). However, once I started digging holes I found between 10-30cm of humous rich soil almost everywhere, lots of bugs and worms and almost 100% ground cover. This against the propaganda that it takes hundreds of years to form a few cm of soil (possibly if starting from rock/gravel but not if starting from clay or sand, as it turns out).
Then the Council Weeds Officers came for a visit and we found out that 30% of our paddock species are invasive exotic grasses and forbs. Though mind, for some, they had to examine the seed heads under a magnifying glass to work out if it was the exotic species or a nearly identical and similarly inedible native species. I tried to point out that the deepest areas of soil building had occurred under the most inedible grasses – sometimes up to 40cm in 15 years!! If I need to plant a tree – I look for the biggest nearby clump of inedible grass to find the best soil for it. Of course before white settlement the fertile soil depth apparently extended between 1m to 1.5m but now 10cm counts as very respectable soil fertility in our area. I laugh when people talk about our region as an example of Australia’s ‘thin and ancient’ soils.
Anyways, the Council Weeds Officers were unmoved. These plants were declared evil because domesticated animals can’t digest them – if we infected our neighbours then their paddocks would decline in productivity and their animals possibly die when the indigestible grasses blocked their stomachs. Leaving aside that presumably we ourselves were seeded by our neighbours, most of our neighbours are not farming, and grazers will only eat indigestible plants when starved into it. Also that our few farming neighbours could massively and quickly increase their productivity by simply not allowing their animals to eat their paddocks into dirt each year and allowing even a small humous layer to build up. The savings in ploughing and reseeding alone would be tremendous. Also, I can’t see how an inedible plant species can possibly decrease productivity when the slightest green shoot of anything is immediately eaten by hungry sheep (even the most inedible plants all seem to have an early edible phase).
I tried the argument that in practice eradication is impossible – your options are to create an eroding moonscape due to overstocking or increasing amounts of herbicides (which immediately regrows the weeds the moment you stop this ‘management’ practice) or to have the weeds. The Council Weeds Officers stated that they were happy with a moonscape. At this point we gave up and arranged for some spot spraying in a sacrificial area away from the creek lines, to ‘show willing’ and avoid the Council Weeds Officers helicopter spraying everything and charging us the fee. I might have cried. Since then, most years we’ve been able to avoid getting spraying done through one reason or another, the inedible weeds keep doing their soil building, and the neighbours’ sheep keep eating their paddocks bare. I also planted food trees to eventually shade out the patches of most invasive exotic grass and make it harder to to see the rest of the property from the road. No one complains about invasive apple trees (though they are).
My friend and I made a zine on the topic of “invasive” plants, from a point of view of informed skepticism, that you can read and download for free here. http://macskamoksha.com/2019/01/invasive-zine
Tripp wrote: “Phil Harris:
I hope you don’t mind that I read your posts in my head in Peter O’Toole’s voice…”
Crikey, Tripp, which role?
I know it is notoriously a shock to hear one’s own voice (true for me), but … oh well … smile.
Glad to hear a cheerful voice from North America. On the two occasions I worked there – I got around – I came away with an impression (it appeared in rather wonderful dreams later) of a beautiful land – a terrific spirit – an aesthetic. It was a pity the ‘built environment’ had become so uniformly ugly.
You could get lucky again –your panthers and wolves – as I remarked about re-invasion after the last Ice Age. And I think of all those colorful woods in New Hampshire hiding the old stone-walls where the first settlers had cut the trees and then had to move on as the soil fertility dropped.
One trouble with science is that often we think prematurely we know what is going on or could work it out from ‘first principles’. The fact that we can’t and there are hard limits to modeling complexity cuts both ways of course.
I am trying to remember your old website. Are you perhaps the guy who was living in a tent with a young family and a newly built rocket stove when an Arctic Vortex came south? I was impressed – smile. I remember later however a newly built house …?
This post, and the ensuing discussion, brought to mind the Parable of the Wheat and Tares from the Gospels. You have to let them both grow; the tares are really annoying at harvest time, but if you just try to nuke them you’d be in huge trouble.
Can’t get more relevant for the contemporary age in such a literal manner than that. Except maybe for the Parable of the Ten Virgins…
Thanks, that’s interesting. Who did you have in mind re Caesarish figures in antiquity? I can think of some great military leaders from the surrounding cultures, but ‘champions of the people’ (against the oligarchy)?
JMG, Methylethyl, Jeanne Labonte,
“Painters!” Yes, that’s what the hillbillies around here call them too. One was spotted crossing the stretch of road between our homestead and town not too long ago, and I heard one shrieking that unmistakable “screaming woman” shriek almost 3 years ago a little north of here toward the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Despite DNR’s insistence to the contrary, they are definitely back in our area!
As to your thoughts about insect populations shrinking because they’re…um…being eaten again, that makes plenty of sense to me. But I wonder if it doesn’t just APPEAR to be in decline because a particular species doesn’t stand out anymore like it once did.
I wanted to respond to Methylethyl about love bugs and June bugs being out of balance in those heady (and thoraxy, and abdominy!) days when they, respectively, pitted the paintjobs on every car in Florida, and stripped gardens clean of whatever green plants you might be attempting to grow, as the unfortunate early stages of a system that now seems to be much more balanced. That’s a good thing! Those love bug storms were…impressive…like black snow. That no one notices them now, or even talks about them, is a prime example of the long term ecosysten balancing our host is discussing in this post. (And great news to boot.)
As for dandelions, Jeanne, I’ve watched them work themselves out of a job in just a couple of seasons. Once the compacted soil they’re showing up in is repaired, they lose their potency and move on. Our neighbor across the street in Spokane, WA, who had a 5′ cyclone fence around his property, hated my approach to gardening (apart from doing such a thing in the front yard to begin with), which in unbearably noticeable part amounted to encouraging the dandelions to grow and improve soil tilth! Works wonders…
It’s darkly amusing the way the species we hate the most are the ones that follow us around and refuse to go away, no matter how thoroughly we abuse them! Just another form of shadow projection perhaps?
I wonder why it that we objectify the rest of nature in the way you’ve described in this great post and the last – beyond the factors of abstraction, distance from nature both due to technology and urbanization, and religious views that humankind has authority over nature.
As you’ve written, some people objectify their relationships with other people close to them: the boss who treats her employees like resources to be exploited, to the abusive husband, to the controlling parent, and this tendency follows along to our treatment of the rest of nature.
In a sense humans and other beings, by their natures, can’t help but not see themselves as separate from everything else because our sensory perceptions ground us in a specific place and time, and therefore are biased to see more of what is particular to that self than what is in common with the rest of reality (that the skin is porous, the same air is breathed by many, etc).
It’s almost like these built-in limits to human perception makes it, without the willingness to recognize these limits and work with them, makes it seem inevitable that each human self is cut off and independent from the rest of reality, and therefore any behavior that benefits the self is good, regardless of the effects of this behavior on everything else. Less of the idea of the self as being a subject, which implies that the self is an actor whose actions are independent but limited within a matrix of wider reality, and more of the idea of the self as an object, in that it is independent from the rest of reality.
OK, I’m probably way off and getting mixed up in definitions with the above. But if I understand correctly, variations of the golden rule exist in many if not most of the world’s religions, and unpacking it you can see why it is effective: do to others as you would have done unto you – it almost goes as far as saying do unto others as they ARE you, but doesn’t, which acknowledges the balancing act between the self and the rest, in that it’s not a binary between the self being completely separate from or completely joined with the rest of nature, but something in between.
Following from this, it may be true that in our society the golden rule has actually been twisted: some individuals treat themselves as objects, and therefore really are treating others, and the rest of nature, are they would like to be treated – as objects.
I guess that is why working on this awareness in the self is at the heart of any response to our current predicament, because if one gets the balance between the self and the rest of reality right, then the appropriate balance between human society and the rest of nature becomes clearer.
Thanks JMG for the clarification on “radiation”. It is so cool how nature works her charms.
No question there are some exciting examples of people having a positive effect on the land. In some extreme cases, folks have been able to turn desert landscapes into food gardens, just by figuring out smart ways to capture the rain that does fall. I don’t happen to know about the fellow and the tortoises in the Mascarenes, but sounds like something worth reading about. But I have also met the folks who try to blindly apply some abstract notion of what our local ecosystems ought to be, and force it on to a landscape that clearly has other ideas!
Yep, that was pretty much my experience too. I am on a listserve for a local group of native plant enthusiasts, and quite a few of them are the panicked rhetoric about some new horrible plant that is so much more aggressive and terrible than anything seen before! Any mention of a plant’s positive attributes is quickly denounced and discarded. “Rip ’em out and spray ’em down!” is the order of the day.
Yep, in the circles I used to run with, we would “Nuke” a site to turn it into a “Moonscape” Sounds super ecological, doesn’t it?
Sigh, I have such conflicted ideas about what ecological restoration means and looks like. I’m not sure what it is, but I have a pretty good idea what it isn’t. cough cough herbicides cough cough.
I’m suspecting there will be some interesting parallels between ecosystem restoration and spiritual growth, but hey that’s just a hunch…
When are invasive species going to get the same treatment that illegal immigrants get? There are an awful lot of parallels between the two 😀
Growing up on the shores of and fishing Lake Erie in the 1980’s, including well before the ZM arrived, the narrative of this piece is all wrong. Jlpicard2 is right but even understates it. Zebra mussels had _nothing_ to do with the cleanup of Lake Erie and the idea that Gaia or Nature is somehow super-adaptively using this event and we can’t see it is all wrong. It was environmental regulations that cleaned up Lake Erie, and one river story shouldn’t be spun to claim that the lake was virtually dead. Yes, it is true that even when the ZM first started having a visible impact (clearer water), scientists were split as to whether this could be a good thing or a bad thing (part of what made the lake rich was the shallowness that allowed the algae that makes the water cloudy also enabled the algae to be the base of a rich food web). Yes, ecosystems ultimately adapt (change) to invasive species, but that doesn’t mean the resulting ecosystem will look anything like it did before, or that we will “like” it just as much. Maybe it’ll be the Sahara…
It’s not that I don’t care. It’s that I made several attempts to join, forgot my password, put one in, was bounced again, etc, etc, etc. Things computerized and I SO do not get along that I go into everything with the nasty suspicion that whatever I do will not work. (i.e. “Go to dropdown menu and click this tab…” “…no such tab on dropdown menu.” (True story!))
I’ll give it another try when I’m feeling up to it and have a few hours, really, I will.
Although, in less than 6 months, most Green Wizardly decisions will be totally out of my hands. I’ll be living in an apartment complex my daughters found for me, with dining halls and campus shuttles and buses to take you places. Which is a lot greener than having a driver take me on errands in sprawling Albuquerque. An apartment, with only one outside wall, should use a lot less energy. And like many an old lady, I don’t buy my clothes, I have my clothes. If not, Ye Olde VIntage Shoppe should supply things to my taste.
And BTW, “Don’t you even CARE?” has been a warning bell ever since the late linguist Suzette Haden Elgin published a list of tropes to beware of. The generation after mine referred to it as guilt-tripping.One of my allergies, like juniper pollen.
Hmm. Something I’ve spent ages mulling over now, that seems quite relevant: would we even recognize a “healthy” biosphere? The ironies of history yet again seems to conspire to make things complicated: modern biological sciences evolved in those very cultures that induced the changes, and went global only after the global ecosystem was thrown into chaos. It’s entirely possible that we take certain things for granted, and have built our sciences on something our ancestors five hundred years ago, and our descendants five hundred years hence, would recognize in a heartbeat as abnormal.
Maybe more than five hundred years hence, depending on how long it takes for the Earth to return to stable conditions, but the point still stands…..
“Donaldus Caesar.” After I stopped laughing … my first thought was “Don’t insult Big Julie that way!” (Nero, now…..)
I came across an article last week about the attack on Alain Finkielkraut, allegedly by “Yellow Vest” protestors, and his reaction to it:
“Finkielkraut’s response was interesting: he said he hoped police would find out who the attackers were, but made some important distinctions. “We are not experiencing a return to the 1930s. It’s a new type of anti-Semitism we’re experiencing. They are the sorts who shout ‘Palestine’ while calling me a Zionist. There was one with a beard who said ‘God will punish you’—that’s not the language of the extreme Right, it’s actually Islamist rhetoric.”
In an interview published prior to the assault, Finkielkraut, when asked about the rise in anti-Semitic acts in France, repeated that they were not for the most part due to the extreme Right but to an anti-Semitism imported from the Maghreb, Turkey, the Middle East, and Africa, which had been implanted in France over a long period of time. He then noted a parallel exponential rise in attacks on Christian churches, observing that “in the 21st century France, Jews, and Catholics were in the same boat.”
It’s not too surprising that the Left is ignoring evidence that the attack was not carried out by a Yellow Vest in accordance with the ideology of the group, but rather by an opportunist with no real connection to the YV. At this moment in time, when the Left (at least in the US) casts its eyes rightward it sees only evil; when it turns out that the perpetrator enjoys high status in the Victim Olympics, the Left has a much harder time with its eyesight and becomes increasingly creative with excuses. Need proof? Surf on over to Daily Kos sometime.
I understand how important biodiversity is, but I don’t think I’d cry too hard if the population of Black Flies that torment us here in New England every spring were thinned out a bit.
One of the most amazing sights I ever saw was – hundreds of Goldfinches, which are native to Missouri, taking flight when I drove down our long gravel driveway. They had been feasting on the seeds of a bumper crop of dandelions. A blur of yellow birds and yellow flowers!
@Valenzuela: “I saw this narrative in action in a video I watched on the eradication of goats from the galapagos islands….That the hundreds of thousands of goats might object to their eradication is irrelevant, since they’re just the evilly evil animal.”
Well, no, it’s that goats can and will go on living in lots of places, whereas the Galapagos tortoises do not live anywhere else and probably could not survive in most places, even if humans were to transport them to Europe as they transported goats to the Galapagos. Introduced continental animals often devastate island ecosystems, e.g., a single German shepherd dog on a killing spree a few years back was estimated to have killed about a quarter of the remaining kiwis in one half of New Zealand.
If human-imposed goats must be removed for the native tortoises to survive, it is fine to feel sorry for the goats. However, the only people who have the right to use inflammatory language like “genocide of the goats” and “evilly evil” strawmanning of conservationists’ views are those who personally are vegans and would not kill, or have killed for them, a fellow vertebrate for any reason whatsoever. If you eat beef and wear leather shoes but want to demonize someone who shoots goats to save a whole species of tortoise, and especially if you also do not claim to believe that mass extinction is desirable, your values are inconsistent.
@ Roger, regarding the generation of diversity:
Has someone working in microbial evolution and ecology, there are definitely some interesting processes that occur. A lot is definitely random – in a few cubic meters of soil, there’s enough of the most common species that literally every possible simple mutation should happen in at least one cell every few days! But there’s an interesting phenomenon by which heavily used genes have higher mutation rates, because the act of using them opens them up to chemical reactions that run slower when the gene is packed away quietly. Sometimes a gene that’s being used a lot gets duplicated because then you can make its products twice as fast, which immediately doubles or more the rate of appearance of new varieties!
Maybe the pythons will travel to Louisiana and help with these…
The new documentary “Rodents of Unusual Size” looks at the nutria population plaguing Louisiana wetlands.
( https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.usatoday.com/amp/1264210002 )
The history of science fiction is not on the side of species that get too far away from nature. The Asguard in Stargate come to mine – They became a race of clones – and that’s ultimately what did them in.
They had no genetic diversity left or way to repair delirious genetic mutations because in becoming clones they wrote sex out of their reproductive strategy……. Yea they were nice bald aliens and all, but when it’s been 20,000 years since an Asguard *#&##(#*#ed something has gotta give. Eliminating sex for purposes of equality and bigger brains, as was the case with the Asguard, is not a good idea.
I really liked how in Stargate, the Knox were allies of the Asgurad. But the Knox didn’t flee from nature and worshipped it, and were thus able to keep their civilization project going.
On a side note – I’m not going to pretend to be a physicist but,
If we ever develop interstellar travel I imagine it will be in the form of a Stargate, utilizing wormholes, cosmic strings or something like that. We know that quantum entanglement is a real phenomenon – If there can be some kind of cosmic bridge between two particles, then it does stand to reason, maybe thousands of years from now, we’ll figure out how to unlock it using no more energy, than say a tree uses. If quantum entanglement exits naturally, then building a Stargate wouldn’t require creating a giant device. It would simply require building a clunk of matter that amplified naturally occurring quantum entanglement. idk
It’s not the killing of the goats with which I have an issue, it’s with the idea that the life of a goat is less valuable than that of a turtle simply because there are more goats in the world than there are turtles, as if the law of supply and demand could be applied to individual animal lives, and the idea that bloody extermination campaigns against a species which did us no harm and whose death does us no good are to be celebrated as a moral achievement because it helps out a species with a greater aesthetic value.
Something that I see a lot of is a categorization of ecosystems being “good” or “bad”. I have no idea though how people can reasonably think that they can make informed judgements about the quality of an ecosystem. Does “good” mean more absolute numbers of species? More large vascular plants and large mammals? More biodiversity? More species that people are fond of? More farm land? More orchards?
I don’t mean this question to be flippant; how can one ecosystem be objectively better than another? I get that humans have human interests, and that a certain ecosystems further certain human interests better, but outside of these human considerations what actually makes a garden better than a desert? What makes rare songbirds better than feral cats? Indeed, what makes an old growth forest better than an airport?
The point I’m making is that I think that there is a lot of confusion between people’s own interests and aesthetic considerations and some sort of ethical evaluation of ecosystems. An ethical evaluation of ecosystems though is, to my eye at least, beyond the scope of human capacity.
Of course we can all have our sympathies and aesthetics. For that reason I tend to love so called invasive species because frankly I find their immense virile potency to be sexy, and when I contemplate them I start to giggle mischievously and my heart fills with love. That though is clearly not a reasoned, ethical response! Rather, it’s a statement of love. Other people equally love skyscrapers and airports. What could possibly make my love more lovely than the love of others? As such I don’t think human preference can inform some sort of objective ethics of respective ecosystems. Rather, human interests can inform human actions within various ecosystems, i.e. it could be unethical from a social or cultural perspective to take actions that foster ecosystems that are hostile to human needs. That though is very different than saying some ecologies are better than others in and of themselves!
A brief note on the humble dandelion: in colloquial Italian, it’s known as piscialetto, which means “pee in bed”. When I add it to a salad, I do find myself needing to get up in the middle of the night. This can be a benefit or a problem….
@ Roger You said:
“While natural selection and survival of the fittest sound plausible as mechanisms to cull populations of organisms, I doubt that we’re even close to the last word on how bio-molecular mechanisms bring about genetic variation. I suspect that there are as yet unknown processes at work within individual organisms, within populations of organisms, and their respective interactions with the physical and surrounding ecology, to either generate new life forms or eliminate those already existing.”
Indeed, there is no shortage of scientists who have noticed this gap in the “neo-Darwinian” narrative. Of course natural selection works on what is already there, but cannot of itself create novelty.
If I may, I’d like to draw your attention to the work of three scientists who have taken a closer look at what might live in that gap and who have eacj left solid glimmerings of fresh possibilities for the thoughtful to consider. All of them lie slightly crosswise to the mainstream conventional view, but two of them retain general respect as “proper scientists” whereas the third, despite a research background that is unassailable, has still ventured into “here be dragons” territory, which other scientists tend to avoid like the plague. However, each of them highlights a mechanism worthy of consideration.
1) Lynn Margulis: novelty generating mechanism – “symbiosis”. She was the one who examined and presented the idea that the eukaryotic cell was not a single entity, but a community composed of bacterial mergers that, having taken place, instantaneously produced something completely novel, arising from, but in no way the same as, each of the original members of the plural community. In her view, although this particular merger took place in antiquity and allowed multicellular organisms to evolve and (using a term JMG used above) radiate into every part of the earth, the process of symbiosis is still going on all around us, and producing novelty (that is to say, the material on which natural selection can then do its thing). Her view is much more comprehensive than this, but certain parts of it have become mainstream – specifically that mitochondria found in practically all eukaryotic cells and chloroplasts found in all plant cells were once free living bacteria.
2) James Shapiro: novelty generating mechanism – the “read write genome”. Shapiro’s work is on the genome itself, and especially on its interesting habit of activating tightly orchestrated (ie non-random) mutation generation routines in response to environmental stresses, such as radiation, starvation, physical damage, etc. His work has always looked to me like a direct tribute to the virtues of JMG’s “dissensus”, but writ as small as the genome itself. He gets into occasional scraps with the Dawkins brigade, but his research credentials are generally well respected.
3) Eugene M McCarthy: novelty generating mechanism – “Hybridisation”. McCarthy has several decades of solid observation and study of hybridisation in birds under his belt, but his theory that human “novelty” as a species may be due to a hybrid event involving a pig-like ancestor and an ape-like ancestor has definitely placed him in “here be dragons” territory for most scientists. As a result, his hybridisation theories (among other things, his general recognition that hybridisation – ie cross-species breeding – is MUCH more common than generally recognised) together with the large body of relevant evidence he has assembled in support of them, are mostly explained and elucidated on a website he himself has constructed, rather than in peer-reviewed journals.
In any case, you are correct that sources of variation are the under-researched part of the evolution theory, but some have definitely addressed this. Of course, if you remove the materialist prohibition on the universe possessing endless creativity, as well as many other non-mechanical, living, qualities, you have less trouble recognising the presence of novelty generators everywhere you look.
Any chance you’re from north Georgia? Just curious…
In Australia one of our more common “weeds” is a bush called lantana.
It is apparently poisonous to cattle, but as others have mentioned they would only eat it if forced to.
It has lovely smelling flowers and I’ve always wondered whether they could make a perfume or essential oil out of it.
Does anyone here know if it is somehow benefiting the Australian environment?
Phil Harris said:
“I am trying to remember your old website. Are you perhaps the guy who was living in a tent with a young family and a newly built rocket stove when an Arctic Vortex came south? I was impressed – smile. I remember later however a newly built house …?”
That’s the chap! Yes, I’m the insane fellow who moved into a big wall tent with his wife and 4 y.o. daughter and 2 y.o. son on May Day ’12, and spent 2 winters trying to keep that sucker warm through some pretty cold nights. You nailed it. Good memory.
And let me tell you, rocket mass stoves and tents do not go together…If you’re going to live in canvas you better have a big hot radiant stove! And lots of dry firewood. But hey, we lived to tell the tale.
Indeed, we built a wood cabin from locally-milled pine in April ’14. Had a good ol’ fashioned barn-raising, with lots of friends and family helping out. Next chapter in a nutshell, we just bought a 1940s Craftsman in the downtown area of the small town we’ve lived outside of for the last 7 years, and intend to return it to a roughly 1940s energy and resource budget. What Retrotopian tier would that make us? Tier 4.67? 🙂 Except we’ll have some modern PV gear there soon too, like we have at the homestead, and a garden, proven tree fruit varieties for this area, and a passive solar water heater. Now in the process of moving the big electrical services at the new place to gas, en route to wood. Maybe an outdoor wood furnace eventually. I believe in the ’40s the original owner heated with coal, as we are finding some small chunks of good black anthracite around and inside the cellar door. Show me where I can find good black anthracite today!
But oak, we got lots of oak. Though I’m still trying to figure out how to rectify my budding druidic respect for the venerable oak with my love of not freezing to death in winter…
As for your other question, it’s silly, but I like Peter O’Toole’s role as Sir Authur Conan Doyle in the movie ‘Fairy Tale’. Ah, the joys of having young children…that’s the voice I read your comments with.
Cheers, good sir.
I poked around about the casuarinas, and found many of those things listed. They are also, apparently, a very clean-burning firewood: they don’t make creosote, and burn down to a clean white ash that is superior for making lye. So: yes, pretty useful, actually. The main issues with them in the FL environment are our shallow, weathered soils. In Australia, they put down deep roots. Here, the roots spread out in a shallow, ground-hogging way, so that they are prone to blowing over in just regular storms (not even hurricanes!), and the roots take over beach areas and prevent turtles and crocodiles from digging nests. Perhaps we need some cockatoos 😉 (nonnative parakeets have already formed wild flocks in S. FL… why not?).
I found one fairly balanced-seeming article on the pythons. I can’t say it’s made me fond of them, but it does point out that by gobbling up the mid-sized fauna in an area, it creates more congenial conditions for turtles to nest and hatch: normally, those animals would be raiding the turtle nests.
Jessi Thompson, my apologies. I was too tired and misspoke. I asked John to remove that post.
The Atlantic magazine had a great article a couple of weeks ago on the spread of Deathcap mushrooms through North America. I couldn’t help pondering when I read it that the fungi must be doing some hardcore decomposition of toxins in these urban areas into something more benign, since decomposition is what fungi do best. And that Nature doesn’t care if a few critters happen to consume said shrooms in the process and die a painful death.
I’m wondering if anyone knows of an introduced species that was once running riot, but is now integrated into the local ecosystem and no longer causing concern?
Does the House Sparrow (English Sparrow) fit this description? When I was a kid I hunted and killed many hundreds of them with my BB gun, pellet gun and traps. They seemed to be everywhere in abundance – in cities, small towns and on farms, but mostly around people. About ten years ago I was surprised to see a House Sparrow working my garden for aphids, along with a mixed species flock native warblers and kinglets. I decided that they must have integrated, and I felt happy. But I haven’t seen another one since that day…not one. I’m curious if others have noticed a sharp decline in House Sparrow populations in their respective ecosystems? (I’m in Cascadia, USA).
Also speaking of the Cascadia ecosystem, I wonder if we left Himalayan Blackberry to continue to evolve as it pleases, might it evolve the ability to grow even faster, taller, and with longer, sharper, more hooked thorns, so that it might start “harvesting” small children as a supplemental source of nitrogen? /s
Re working with Nature/nature
Interestingly in tune with the topic of this week’s post, I am out of town this weekend, in La Crosse, WI, attending the 2019 MOSES (Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service) Organic Farming conference. I am, obviously, not a farmer, but the material from many of the workshops (such as soil healthy and biology) can be “scaled down” to my gardening applications. Not to mention that one has the opportunity to connect with folks from the whole Midwest(-ish) region. It is a fascinating mix of people, from older farmers (think elder men in weathered Ford ball caps) to older back-to-the-land folks to young couples of various sexual persuasions (some with tats and nose-rings and slouch beanies). And noticeable sub-populations of very pregnant young farmers, as well as a number of Amish/Mennonite families. Quite a mix of demographics.
(In the three workshop I attended today, the notion of following nature’s lead, working with her systems—and/or getting out of the way of her systems—was a common theme, as was the recognition of how little we understand of those systems in the grand scheme of things.)
But all of these people here (over 2000 attendees, I believe) are in one way or another involved in organic, restorative, and regenerative agriculture, which I find highly encouraging. If such a diverse group can come together around an idea and work toward a common goal, albeit along differing lines of approach, perhaps there is hope after all 🙂
Thanks for a great essay. I just had a few pretty general thoughts. I have a feeling that less and less people in the industrialized west can really even hear Mother Nature’s voice these days. It has been drowned out by the lure of 24-7 fast-food drive-thrus, the relentless drone of traffic, advertising, fast fashion, video games, social media and God knows what else. When the blue light of our televisions washes out the light of the stars, I think our chances of hearing Nature’s voice have gone way down.
I feel our culture doesn’t teach us how to understand Nature’s language or being. Ancients personified the natural forces, seeing divine Beings present in Nature’s many manifestations. We seem to have taken another approach, cutting her up and taking her apart and quantifying her as various isolated material phenomena; object instead of subject indeed. Perhaps a return to a mythological way of seeing the world would be more in tune with the way Nature would like us to relate to her.
Our culture teaches that we are separate from Nature, yet Circadian rhythms, seasonal variation of hormones, and other biological processes which vary with the changing day lengths and temperatures show how closely connected we actually are with the natural world. Humans evolved in close physical proximity with the earth. I think our predominantly indoor lifestyles in the industrialized world, where we have largely lost this crucial physical proximity and dependence on the natural world, have cut us off from the knowledge of how to live in relationship with Nature.
Alright, so this local privately-owned nature preserve with which i have been casually involved for a number of years has made it their ongoing mission to wipe out “invasive, non-native species” like garlic mustard, honeysuckle, et.al. from the property so as to preserve “biodiversity”. a group somewhat connected with the nature center has been doing the same thing along the nearby river and surrounding river basin. Mind you, this involves cutting the bushy limbs off level with the ground (the root systems are usually too far advanced to dig up completely) and them spraying them heavily with… you guessed it… Roundup®.
Up until now I’ve just uncritically accepted the need for and method of doing this, but it makes little sense to me now. Question is, I can’t thing of any corporate interests that have anything to gain from exterminating the offending greenery, as is the case with your above-mentioned mollusks. Do you suspect it’s just a matter of going along with the conventional (read: “academic”) wisdom? (This is a university town, after all.)
Well, I couldn’t even FIND a place to log in on the new Green Wizards site, so you’re ahead of me, Patricia!
I use a ‘droid for most web browsing. This allows me to fit it in when I have to wait five minutes. Basically I’m substituting internet for waiting room magazines. But apparently not Green Wizards, because it just looks like a bog standard blog. No forums at all. I’ll have to fire up the desktop sometime.
On this week’s topic, does anyone have any idea of what on earth Russian Knapweed is good for? Nothing eats it and it poisons out other plants, creating a toxic monoculture. You cannot pull it by hand: even with heavy leather gloves it makes you sick, and it comes back from root fragments. The county insists on removal-and if we want anything else to grow we have to remove it, which appears to mean spray. (The effect on other plants, even mature trees, is like black walnuts, only worse.)
We have, however, had a very nice snow year so far, and it’s still coming down, so our high desert canyon is just covered in white sparkles. I love when it snows and the sun is shining. I’ve resisted buying chicks early this year simply because the water troughs we use for brooders have over three feet of snow on them!
Last winter I joined a couple of efforts by the Sierra Club in Phoenix to eradicate invasive species in a local watercourse.
I began having serious doubts by the second outing. We were focusing on eradicating buffelgrass, which gets used as a landscaping plant all around the city. Apparently it accelerates brush fires in the Sonoran desert, which seriously damages the ability of the native plants to survive.
I get the rationale, but….
1) I read later that Mexican ranchers have spent the last century spreading buffelgrass across millions of acres, so the our little attempt to stop the spread is laughably outmatched.
2) The Sierra Club can’t do anything about the landscapers (and probably most of the members live in heavily landscaped areas that feature attractive buffelgrass clusters), so the Rio Salado will keep getting flooded by seeds.
3) Most importantly, I couldn’t help but feel that we were going into an improbably flourishing watershed in the industrial heart of Phoenix, and tearing the bejeezus out of it. The egrets and the herons didn’t seem to mind the buffelgrass and the palm trees, so I felt I shouldn’t mind either.
Meanwhile, here in Colorado, I was walking along a river bank and ran into some purple loosestrife that had been dosed with herbicide. So, great, we’re pouring carcinogenic poisons directly into the watershed because something’s growing without our permission.
More and more, I feel like the first thing for our civilization to do, environmentally, is to simply take our foot off the freaking gas pedal. But we can’t, because if we let our three-ring manic circus falter, we’ll start noticing everything of our selves that we’ve given away.
BoysMom said “I use a ‘droid for most web browsing. This allows me to fit it in when I have to wait five minutes. Basically I’m substituting internet for waiting room magazines. But apparently not Green Wizards, because it just looks like a bog standard blog. No forums at all. I’ll have to fire up the desktop sometime.”
I’m sorry to hear that. I picked the theme we are running just because it was supposed to be laptop, tablet and phone adaptable. I know many use those to surf now. There should be at least two links off the main page to the forum, which is the heart of the site. At the very top and in the right menu.
Try this link to get there direct: http://greenwizards.com/forum
Let me know if that gets you there.
I don’t have a smart phone, just an old flip phone. The site did look ok in one of my tablets though.
Can you tell me what OS, browser and phone you are using?
“When we act, we create our own reality.”
In a way that’s true, and the neocons certainly created a new reality in the Middle East. It’s just not a reality they could predict or control.
And that leads me to recognize one of the many binaries that crowd our worldview. On the one hand, we act like masters of reality, striding forth to bend nature to our will and conquer the stars. On the other, materialist culture keeps insisting that we’re puppets with no true will of our own; much of our modern technology perpetuates this.
It’s bizarrely difficult to explain that if you bend the right way, the cosmos bends with you, and if you bend the wrong way, you get trampled on.
Patricia Mathews, sorry you are having troubles.
I keep telling people to just send me an email at greenwizarddtrammel at gmail dot com, if they are having troubles registering. Let me know your user name and I can give your account a manual password which you can log in with.
Its been my experience that most problems with replies are because email systems like gmail, seem to route green wizard emails into the spam folder, or just delete them completely. Not sure why but quite a few webmasters are complaining that this new puss to go htmls (secure html) on sites is pushing many of the older sites into a “you might be hacked by the site” status.
The pain is that the programmer of this theme forgot to add htmls” to ONE fraking line of code to a font of a minor title. Because of that, we get lumped into the “Dangerous sites” category if you do a search for us on google and we look like we’re trying to hack you. Depending on which OS and browser you use, that can seriously restrict what you see.
I may just find a different theme for the site, but I like the one we have. The programmer is unresponsive after taking a hundred dollars from me to recolor the site and not giving me a green theme. I can take a month and try and learn Durpal but if I don’t get all of the old posts and comments moved to the new site by June, I have to pay $200 to renew the hosting for a year. GoDaddy offers no month to month.
There are about 5000 of them. I’m going to probably renew the old forum.
This isn’t posted to overlook your problems BUT again, if you or anyone else is having problems logging into the new site, email me PLEASE. I check my emails twice a day (when I’m up in the morning and when I get home from work).
Heck, I’ll post my phone number if it helps.
I’ve been an engineer, farmer and, at the present, do gardening and lapidary. Nature not only bats last, but also bats first and regularly bats cleanup. I cannot even hold entropy and chaos to a breakeven.
I was about to go to bed but Patrica said “Although, in less than 6 months, most Green Wizardly decisions will be totally out of my hands.”
If I might ask this of you, how do you think Green Wizardry would make your life once you move Better?
Its a past misconception that Green Wizardry means just the things a young couple could do to make their life better off the grid. The next two decades of Collapse is going to be about us urban dwellers and often older urban dwellers trying to get by on less and less. I’m 5 years from retirement and will have only Social Security as an income. I can only hope that future politicians keep their hands off it, though any cost of living will still lag further and further behind.
Its akin to people who rent. Most don’t think they can live greener but they can, and I’m trying to post as many topics and tutorials as I can to show them how. Don’t discount Green Wizardry’s ability to make your life more pleasant, just because you aren’t in some rural doomstead raising chickens and growing veggies.
@gaiabaracetti, MR.O and JMG:
I think it was in the late 1980ies when some scientists already dreamed of genetically engineered microbes to clean up oil spills. One savvy commenter then quipped (I paraphrase): It will be interesting to see what happens when the microbes run out of oil to eat and evolve to digest other food, such as the cremes and oils sunbathers on the beach like to smother themselves in…
Human stupidity seems to be infinite indeed.
In response to JMG and @Sgage, I completely agree. Nature is just simply funcitoning on a scale that we cannot ever model. In trying to model it, we learn this.
Usually find really good soil under lantana bushes. Don’t know which came first though. Apparently they can be killed by planting choko vines over them.
I like some of the turns of phrase in this article.
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine who lives in Eastern Ontario, between Kingston and Ottawa, told me of the “invasion” of (I forget the species) of caterpillar that munched voraciously on leaves of the trees and multiplied beyond all reason. The Ministry of Natural Resources was concerned &c. &c. But the second year, there were fewer caterpillar larvae and by the third year, they were still there, but in a very small number. It seems the local fauna and avian population had developed a taste for them and so population control came into effect without the need for any harsh chemical sprays, that they bureaucrats hadn’t got around to vetting yet, anyway.
Another anecdote I remember reading a number of years back was that there was actually a debate in the MNR and amongst various science schools as to whether they should even try to eradicate the Zebra mussel, but simply adjust costs to reflect the extra maintenance, because they clean the water.
And a final point that comes to mind, something I though up when I was still in school and first heard about ‘invasive species’ in biology, which was right after history. I put the two things together and concluded that every species is ‘invasive’ at some point in history. The biology teacher explained that we consider it ‘invasive’ if we brought it from somewhere else from whence it could not have migrated on its own and if it has effects we do not necessarily want on the local ecosystem.
Bruce G. Hearns
Thanks for the catch-up.
I was glad when you all reappeared after the Vortex – all those sub-routines to invent to get through!
Aaah… “radiant heat” – indeed – and “the joys of having young children”. Like an idiot I am stuck too far from our grandchildren, but I will check if they know the movie. Eldest has ‘moved on’ last couple of years from fairies but could give me a critique I’m pretty sure. Bless me … Conan Doyle in a fairy tale? I like the sound of the plot.
Thanks for the information on Margulis! I thought all her work was on the original incorporation of mitochondria.
Some time ago I took a long, calm look at McCarthy’s website. I came to the conclusion that he explains away all and any evidence that might falsify his hybridization hypothesis, and offers no possible falsification test either. That isn’t science…
Hi John Michael,
Thank you for writing this essay. Your writing is always very good, however this essay was exceptional.
I read most of the comments today whilst on the train journey into, and then back out of, the big smoke. I am curious about one matter (that a correspondent on my blog raised – Hi Lewis!) regarding the zebra mussels. Does anything else consume the mussels? Even down this way, the ultra smart crows have learned how to consume the – all conquering cane toads (which have not made it this far south yet, and probably the winters here might kill them if they did, maybe?)
Anyway, eventually I reckon a species presents enough flesh for other opportunists, and something will begin to consume it. The Portuguese millipedes were like that for decades in this corner of down under, but eventually an indigenous nematode learned to consume them. There is a lesson in there for our own species.
A few people mentioned our marsupial possums over in New Zealand, where they have no predators. The possums are edible, and their fur is a superb material – it really is about the softest and warmest fur that you will ever feel. The Aboriginals used to make possum coats out of the critters and that would have kept a person toasty warm during the cold winters. Anyway, I mention possums because they’re not a nuisance at all here – in fact, the many species of owls hunt and kill them – it is brutal, and the owls are effective and the possums are nervous.
Also the lack of insects was an often repeated as dire warning. You know, the city down here and farm lands are often very quiet places due to the lack of insects. But up here in the forest, it is insect central and they’re everywhere, so once we stop spraying and growing houses and mono-culture crops, they’ll spread out from places like here. That is no excuse to do those activities though. I once experienced a locust plague on the farm and the birds ate every single one of them.
And finally, I’d have to suggest that the number of people I encounter that have gut issues and complaints is a serious problem which is often discounted and treated as somehow normal. The food people consume these days is not good, and nobody seems to want to notice how ‘dead’ their food is, but (excuse my sarcasm) the alternative is just so much like hard work man!
Interesting viewpoint. I have family and friends who I tease as “Plant Nativists” They make it a point to kill any invasive plants they can, and bemoan the existence of the ones they can’t. I find it funny that an attitude that would be horrific if applied to people is considered self-evidently correct towards plants.
Some years ago, during a dry summer, I went fishing below a dam in the eastern Kansas. When I looked into the shallow water, it was opaque with fish, all swimming upstream. They were asian carp, trying to spread further into the waterways. It was a frightening sight. I have to say though, they’re the best tasting fish I’ve ever had!
@David, by the lake,
I attended a similar conference in Grass Valley, CA two weekends ago and had an almost identical experience. In the parking lot I saw a car plastered with “environmentalist” stickers parked next to a car with a MAGA sticker. I did get into some heated discussions (almost entirely about the effects of the legalization of pot) but I was mostly struck by how so many people had tempered their views, whether on the right or the left, by working with one another on the land. Such diversity of age, lifestyle and opinions getting along and working together with a common cause. It was a very uplifting experience and it has me really torn between moving to Nevada or Yuba County versus fleeing California…
This week’s blog has much to contemplate, thank you. Right now I am turning my small yard into a mini food forest, and I have been spending a lot of time learning to appreciate and work with the “weeds” and “pests”, learning what can grow where, and how to tend them. I have absolutely found that the pests are a fantastic teacher about the health of the soil and the plants. I solved a massive aphid problem in my kale patch using nothing but proper pruning techniques and working on soil health, my formerly infested patch is now large and healthy. What an education, thanks to those little bugs.
Yes, Mother Earth will abide and ultimately heal herself. Though, sitting by idly, while the human industrial experiment self-immolates is not a palatable approach for those of us with children or that have concerns for the other denizens of the planet. Is there a political solution to the mess we made. Maybe not. The actions of school children marching around the globe and educating people about climate change give me hope. The activities of progressive politicians both here and abroad give me hope. Spreading awareness is the first step in preparing people for the inevitable decline. And perhaps after a critical mass of awareness is achieved, positive adaptations can be made.
Scotlyn and Tony, thanks for your thoughtful responses. In the past when I’ve said such things about evolution, I’ve been accused of being a closet creationist etc etc. My response was to laugh.
In any case, I’ve heard of Margulis. I’ve read that on this side of the pond she’d gotten a fair bit of scorn for her ideas, but not on the European side where she got a much more respectful hearing. I’ve read that maybe early symbiosis with spirochete life-forms are where our inner-ear structures come from. And yeah, mitochondria. And ideas about heavily used genes having higher mutation rates and mutation generation routines that respond to environmental stressors sound to me like areas that could bear results. All praise for those courageous people that ignore prohibitions on prohibited thinking.
JMG, maybe a warmer world would be better for life-forms in general if not for us humans in particular. Could we adapt to a warmer world? After all, evolution acts on humans too. Or we could do what 95% of all living things have done, that is, go extinct. But look at raccoons. Those clever little devils look more than capable of picking up where we leave off. I’ve read that we have 500 million years ahead of us before nuclear processes inside the sun make Earth unbearably hot for any kind of life-form. There’s still time for a few evolutionary experiments.
Dear Copeland, About introduced species, I have Identified at least five edible, and introduced weeds in my yard: purslane, nettle, plaintain (the weed of that name, not the banana), dandelion, and burdock. I have myself introduced horseradish–very invasive but the huge roots are a splendid soil opener and conditioner and comfrey. Dill is also reseeding and lovage grows back every year. Lovage water, made by soaking a few leaves in a jar of clear water, is very refreshing in summer. I don’t know if the pigweed (amaranth) is native or not. I have early spring greens way before the lettuce, chard and endive get growing.
Dear David Trammel, I just registered with Green Wizards, thank you for the invite. It is a handsome site.
I do hope you have troll filters in place?? After many years of participation in various garden fora, I have had it up to the eyebrows with the paid Monsatan shills, and the unpaid believers in progress and industrialized farming and chemical gardening, from far right AND far left, not to mention the Miss Amy Fan Club who regard the preservation of historic plants as the latest and coolest in fashionable accessories.
Russian Knapweed is a excellent honey plant. Bees love it and it makes a very nice light colored honey.
Uses for lantana: https://www.deccanherald.com/content/377594/putting-noxious-weed-use.html
Lanatana might be of interest to local basket crafters and joiners, as well as a good plant for making garden trellis for free.
@ Matthias Gralle re “McCarthy’s website. I came to the conclusion that he explains away all and any evidence that might falsify his hybridization hypothesis, and offers no possible falsification test either. That isn’t science…”
You may or may not be right. I reckon he has hit on A HYPOTHESIS (the one on human origins) that people are going to love or hate, but in any case not be able to be particularly objective about. Also, since he postulates an event occurring a very long time ago, which none of us can go back and view as it happened, there is very little we can do to either falsify or verify THAT particular speculation, however we feel about it.
On the other hand, I reckon he does know what he is talking about when he talks about how common hybridisation processes are that are observable today, and also, I don’t find it a stretch at all to speculate that a great deal of the novelty and variability and natural innovation upon which natural selection can then go to work and get “selecting”, may accidentally spring from encounters of the “xenophilic” kind (to borrow another coinage from JMG).
My main point is to say that various scientists (and others) HAVE gotten to work trying to discover and explore ways that novelty comes about. If you like, hybridisation could be thought of as a multicellular instance of the larger set of symbioses explored by Margulis.
On the other hand, when it comes to specific hypotheses and specific presented evidence, the usual proviso applies. Taste and see.
Nastarna, if I may, according to Suzanne Ashworth’s classic book on seed saving, _Seed to Seed_ botanists have some disagreement regarding the origin of amaranth. The most likely scenario appears to be that this family originated in North America and spread outward from there. Indeed, it was a major staple crop of the Aztecs, also used in rituals of human sacrifice. As such the Spanish banned it, and grain amaranth nearly went extinct in Mexico.
Interestingly, some varieties of amaranth from other parts of the world have quite likely “returned” to North America and these varieties have became distinct weeds. Perhaps the most salient take away is that the movements of plants over time may be more complex than humans’ abilities to keep track!
(A follow up)
Patrica, your comment about not being able to do Green Wizardry because of your age, and new housing situation got me thinking so much after I laid down last night, that I got up and wrote a new thread on the GW forum just about that.
Green Wizardry and the Elderly
My biggest point is always think of yourself as a valuable resource, not as a liability. I don’t know your personal situation but even if you now need help with the day to day physical tasks of living, doesn’t mean you don’t have value and can’t contribute. Seniors have a rich life behind them and a store of knowledge just waiting to be shared. Don’t waste that treasure by letting yourself fade away, hidden in some drab room. Get out and find a way to contribute to your Community.
That’s what Green Wizardry is to me.
@DavidTrammel I too tried to sign up at your Green Wizards site and nothing happened. I will send you a personal email so you can do whatever needs to be done. Sherlock Holmes I’m not, nevertheless I suspect plenty have signed up and the server ate the information, vaporizing it without so much as a polite burp.
Slightly OT, but the the important point discussed a few places above, that no model of Nature short of the real thing could be predictive, is similar to why the idea of reality-as-simulation, popular among many of the tech-elite, is so ridiculous.
Chris at Fernglade, a quick search shows some research about freshwater drum (colloquially, sheepshead) and yellow perch eating them, and some migrating ducks, but it sounds like it is not significant predation. Although I don’t live there any more, I do go back and visit family, and still go out fishing on Lake Erie. Anecdotally, perch fishing is probably quite down for historical levels, but walleye seems to be doing well (it comes and goes depending on breeding success each year). For better or worse, no ecosystem is the same once a large presence of humans are in it. Zebra mussels are hardly the only issue in Lake Erie, now while trolling your line gets fouled with spiny water fleas, and while perch fishing you’ll often catch more round goby than perch. Both were brought in by tankers, like the ZM. The round goby is probably going to be a bigger ecosystem changer than the ZM.
Reminds me of one of my favorite books, Dougal Dixon´s “After Man: A Zoology of the Future”. The concept is that humanity disappears, after first having exterminated most land animals. However, the so-called pest species survive, and after 50 million years give rise to an entirely new global fauna of descendants to starlings, rats, mongooses, rabbits, etc.
Another “revenge of nature” are species which adapt to so-called human domination, everything from cockroaches and pharaoh ants to house sparrows, house crows and domestic cats! These species (which follow humans around the world) will presumably get a substantially more restricted range when humanity disappears, but they will never go completely extinct even then. They are experiencing their bonanza right now…
Thanks, David! Am going to a party shortly so will probably do so tomorrow around midmorning. Have forgotten my old username but can give you either the one I use for email or the one I use on gmail, which I rarely check because I don’t get many messages on it.
What you said about Google etc and the programming error explains a LOT!
David: How can Green Wizardry make my life better? One small way I’m already going to do is to put up a plain curtain rod on brackets on the apartment’s one window, over the blind that already comes with it. Then attach several baggies of clip-on rings to the tab drapes I own and put them up on the rod. Insulation, light-proofing where wanted, simple, mechanical, could have been done with ancient Greek tech.
Plus doing no driving whatsoever! Mass transit (campus shuttle, bus. Car only for doctor’s appointments etc.). Most amenities already on campus. Will ask where, if I got one, I could park a tricycle. Community college across the street from the main campus entrance: take shuttle and cross on foot at the light. Gainesville has 3-bin (4-bin?) recycling including compost.
Already own a folding clothes rack for air-drying clothing.
The rest? I’ll see when I get there, but walking should come a lot more easily to me at sea level in a climate a lot less dusty! And at my age I will certainly not have the air conditioning turned up as high as most hot & wet places keep it; not to mention I prefer eating on the patio if my daughter takes me to a restaurant.
Oh, I won’t stop trying. Believe me. It’s part of my religion, after all.
WRT to Nature making its own adaptations.
Remember Gypsy moths? My dad was told by a forest ranger about how up in Shenandoah, Gypsy moths were a terrible scourge until the blue jays discovered that the caterpillars were some darn fine eating.
Animals do learn. They are not automatons.
My mother, in central Delaware, taught the squirrels to eat mango pits. They’re the biggest seed you ever saw.
For the first year, the squirrels ignored the pits.
The second year, the squirrels played with the pits.
The third year, some squirrel bravely tried to open the pit and discovered the bounty inside.
When she puts out mango pits now, the squirrels fight over them and have for many years. The older squirrels teach the younger ones how to open the pit.
Teresa from Hershey
“Nastarna, if I may, according to Suzanne Ashworth’s classic book on seed saving, _Seed to Seed_ botanists have some disagreement regarding the origin of amaranth. The most likely scenario appears to be that this family originated in North America and spread outward from there. Indeed, it was a major staple crop of the Aztecs, also used in rituals of human sacrifice. As such the Spanish banned it, and grain amaranth nearly went extinct in Mexico.”
If you are interested in this sort of thing, you might really enjoy Natalie Mueller’s website. She is an Archaeologist and Ethnobotanist, and really interested in ancient/ancestral native American seed crops. Some really interesting stuff on her blog:
Suddenly it occurs to me that I might have learned of her work from you months and months ago on this very site! But if you haven’t checked it out, I think you’d enjoy it and learn some interesting things…
My superworms should be arriving Monday! I will let everyone know how it goes. I am trying to think of ways to further digest the polystyrene waste after it passes through the worms so as to avoid just creating a bunch of microplastics. Considering oyster mushrooms, which apparently “eat” plastic too, but I know as much about growing mushrooms as those people who ask me which end of the bulb goes down know about growing plants. We shall see! There is also a big question mark regarding how I will know when/if the process has been successful—not sure if/where one can send these things off for testing, or how much it would cost, so I’ll be looking into that as well.
ilovemusictheory I suspect you are correct. Well over 3/4th of the signups never go ahead and log in, even though I approve them withing 12 hours. How many people check their spam folder on a regular basis? Guess I’ll have to sign all my posts here with “Problems signing up, please email me personally.”
In all probability, we at a moment when the over reaction of ISPs is flagging alot of legitimate email as spam or just deleting them out right. Since most of that is coming from spammers no one complains. Small sites like ours get penalized.
Now that the roll out of the Green Wizard site has happened, I’m going to try and do some work on the software side of things over the next two months. Pantheon, my webhost allows me to create sandbox sites. I’m going to clone the existing site and see if I can successfully do the Security update, change the color motif and activate the search function there.
If I can then I’ll roll those updates over unto the real site.
In the meantime I’ll keep pushing out weekly blog posts and tutorials.
Good to hear you are hanging in there Pat. My best wishes and should you ever want to do the occasional guest post as a Green Wizard in retirement, email me and we’ll get you’re thoughts posted to the main page.
Cathy McGuire posted for a while her “Lazy Gardener” blog until her personal situation made it too difficult, and it was well received. Perhaps you’ll fill her spot?
Personally, I have big thick sleeping bags over most of my windows as insulation. I did have the entire house set at about 60, with a small electric space heater keeping one room where the foster cats are housed at 70, but I noticed the younger one chewing the cord the other day. Not wanting the house to smell like electrified cat, I’ve moved the heater out of the room and bumped the house temp up to 65.
I look forward to seeing your comments on the Green Wizard forum.
James, remember that for Spengler, the prime symbol is the way that depth in space is represented. For us, it’s linear perspective, the straight line zooming off to infinity; for ancient Egyptian culture, it’s the processional way running between two masses in permanent opposition, like the Nile between its banks; for traditional Chinese culture, it’s the wandering path of Tao fading into and out of sight among clouds and mountains, and so on. Look at Mexican art, pre-Columbian and modern, and try to get a sense of the way it defines and understands space, and that’ll lead you to the prime symbol.
Yves, I don’t know anything like enough about the processes by which plastics break down over time, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if microbes are starting to take a hand (or a pseudopod) in it. Plastic is tasty, nourishing carbon and hydrogen, after all, and something’s going to figure out how to eat it eventually!
TamHob, glad to hear that you were able to duck and weave through the official horseradish!
Kollibriterre, thanks for this! Keep the zines comin’…
Carlos, good! And farmers in Judea in the first century knew that perfectly well, of course.
Monk, see if you can find a copy of Michael Enright’s book Lady with a Mead Cup. It’s a remarkable exploration of the way that warband culture in Roman-era barbarian societies overturned established tribal hierarchies, with war leaders as the Caesar-figures. (Do you by any chance know the Irish legends of Fionn mac Cumhaill? They’re one of the great literary expressions of that process, with Fionn as the archetypal war leader and the Fianna as the archetypal warband, always at least partly at odds with the high king at Tara and the whole hierarchical structure of Old Irish society.)
Tripp, in western Washington where I grew up, everyone calls ’em cougars, but I picked up the term “painter” from books on Appalachian culture. I’m delighted to hear the DNR insists they’re not around, as that’s much better for the big cats in question. As for shadow projection — why, yes, that would make a great deal of sense!
Jbucks, good. You’re heading in one of the directions I plan on taking this discussion in upcoming posts.
Linda, you’re most welcome. When I took college classes in ecology and evolutionary biology, I spent the whole time in a state of delighted awe.
Prizm, oh, my. You could get a great many raised hackles on both sides of the political divide by asking that innocent question!
Jcook, that’s the standard narrative that’s been pushed by the media for years, so I’m not at all surprised to see you rehashing it. I’m simply suggesting that another way of looking at things offers more useful perspectives — and the fact that other “invasive” species such as the round goby and the spiny water flea are becoming part of a thriving ecosystem in the lake, if one that’s inconvenient for human beings, is more grist for my mill, you know.
Will J, that’s an excellent point. Certainly modern industrial humanity has no clue what a healthy ecosystem would look like.
Patricia, just one of the services I offer. 😉
Dana, thank you for the image!
Candace, give ’em long enough. On the other hand, I understand that the locals in the bayous find nutria very tasty, too.
Austin, the same’s true in written SF — one of the great lessons, often repeated, is all the trouble you get into when you pretend that nature doesn’t matter any more. The City and the Stars, anyone?
Violet, ding! We have a winner. Every value judgment is exactly that, a value judgment, and only means something if you specify what the values are in terms of which you’re making the judgment. The people who become obsessed with biodiversity are at least getting that far, even though the mere number of species isn’t necessarily a useful guide to the state of an ecosystem, These days, though, people throw around labels like “good” and “bad” without ever specifying the values on which they’re making those judgments, and the result is quite predictably horseradish.
Peter, it used to be called “piss-a-bed” in English, too, before the Victorian era taught us all to be mealy-mouthed hypocrites. 😉
J.L.Mc12, I’ll have to toss that out to my other readers down under. “Lantana” sounds like the name of a city in a fantasy novel, though!
Methylethyl, shoulda known that those reptiles were in cahoots! 😉
KF, Mother Nature likes dead things just as much as living things, since dead things feed other living things. Thus the toxicity of the mushroom is no concern of hers!
Copeland, I tangled with Himalayan blackberry often enough in my Seattle days that your suggestion seems eerily likely to me! As for invasives that have become stable parts of the environment, check out both species of plantain in your yard. Broadleaf and lance-leaf plantain both came with settlers from Europe and spread explosively across North America; now they’re perfectly well-behaved residents of much of the New World.
David, thank you for that! Very good to hear.
Stefania, you won’t hear any arguments about that from this Druid.
Jason, it’s the conventional wisdom. Since nature is not allowed to change, especially not to deal constructively with our misbehavior, when she changes anyway people flip out and break out the poison sprays.
BoysMom, one possibility is that the point of Russian knapweed is to make land inhospitable to human beings, so they’ll have to leave it alone. Not good news if you live there, I get that, but that may be what nature has in mind.
Cliff, and then we have the really awkward task of getting back the things we’ve given away and doing something with them… And the fact that it’s bizarrely difficult to explain something so obvious as how to avoid getting trampled is just another measure of how messed up our thinking is these days.
Robert, nicely summarized. Thank you.
Frank, oh, that would be fun. Then the microbes would start eating the synthetic fabrics of the swimsuits…
Michelv, exactly. The human brain is six inches long; the universe is hundreds of billions of light years across. The notion that the first of these can even begin to understand the second is perhaps the most crackpot delusion our species has yet managed.
Bruce, the same thing happened with brown stink bugs in the corner of Maryland where I used to live. The first year we were there, they were all over the place; then the jays figured out they were highly nutritious and started feeding them to their chicks, and the population dropped to a quite modest level. Lots of cheerful, well-fed jays, though!
Chris, doubtless something is figuring out how to chow down on the mussels as we speak. Last I heard, it was their eggs and hatchlings that had become an important food source at the bottom of the food chain, snapped up by freshwater shrimp and the like, which are then eaten by small fish, and so on up to the big tasty fish on top. As for humans and gut problems, I ain’t arguing…
Alex, I wonder if people are funneling their xenophobia toward nonhuman species these days. As for Asian carp, no argument there — one very effective way to keep a species under control is to eat a lot of it.
James, did you think I’m suggesting sitting by idly? Not so. I’m suggesting that where nature is healing herself, we might want to get out of the way!
Roger, for most of the time there has been life on Earth, this planet has been much warmer than it is today; we’re in an unusually cold phase of planetary weather just now. The Earth will be fine in a warmer state — it’s just that industrial civilization will not survive the transition, and neither will a lot of human beings. Last I heard, we’ve got 1.2 billion years before the Earth can no longer support life; when you remember that multicellular organisms have only been around for a little more than half a billion years, no question, there’s plenty of time left for evolution to play with.
Yves, an excellent point. I think they just wish that reality was a simulation…
Tidlosa, a very pleasant book! You’re right, too, that our companion animals (wanted and otherwise) are also a fascinating ploy of nature’s…
Teresa, good for your mom. I suspect that a thousand years from now she’ll be revered as a squirrel deity…
Jen, huzzah for the superworms! Keep us posted on the results.
One of the other things I find fascinating is how hard it is to convince people that sterilization (poisoning) isn’t a good idea. I’m getting into fermentation (kombucha, and pickles so far, more planned for the near future), and plenty of people I talk to can’t seem to grasp I can’t use tap water for this, since the chlorine in it will kill the microbes. In fact, quite a few people have insisted that since I’m leaving the stuff out, I need to add something to the water to keep the germs out! Biophobia is quite strange.
As for us not knowing what a healthy ecosystem would look like, I’d extend the principle: we don’t know what healthy communities look like. The biotic community we live in is probably less twisted and distorted than our human communities…
Regarding the descendants of today’s housecats in deep time, it is interesting to consider that housecats have evolved to sound like human infants when they are hungry. Nobody really knows, but the plausible hypothesis is that sounding like human infants helped some proto-housecats survive lean times by eliciting sympathy from the humans who they had a symbiotic relationship with. Of course, imagine a future in which Felis catus has bifurcated into Felis catus and Felis terribilus, both of which have a knack for sounding like human babies when hungry, the salient difference being that one species weighs 120 lbs and is in a tree above you ;).
Thanks, David. I take note that keeping the room too cold for the cats is counterproductive, though as one of Gaia’s Frozen People, it’s not likely I’ll ever do that. My friend Al, one of our circle’s two polar bears, did that at one time – she may still – and I felt very sorry for her cats. After all, respect all the beings who share this land with us, eh? On the Green Wizardry front, apartment living means that Mister Spot, who is 16 years old anyway, will have to become an indoor cat. Florida songbirds will like that, though I’ve never seen him bringing down a New Mexico songbird or any other kind.
At any rate, I’m looking forward to your new item on the forum, and would be glad to get active in my new community as soon as I feel out the customs, issues, ways of doing things. My daughter’s first year was difficult because, being in from California, she kept trying to find the sort of organizations etc she was used to operating through. When she finally realized that down there, everything is done through the churches, she became a member of the Gainesville UU Church, a natural fit for her, and is very active there. But it took her a year. Being more than usually socially inept, it might take me a lot longer. Oh, well. More tomorrow, via email.
@David T, my iPhone (on Safari) shows Green Wizards as blog only as well, although it functions perfectly well on my laptop.
Sounds like you are battling away on many fronts to rejuvenate the site. Thank you, and keep it up. I just registered and am keeping fingers crossed..
Thanks. I read a detailed review of that book, and the Wikipedia article on Fionn mac Cumhaill. However, I cannot say I’m convinced. America still seems more like Rome to me than like the barbarians – was there a barbarian intelligentsia? And Greek culture played much the same role in Rome as European in America: prestigious and derided, not deeply influential except through transformations like Virgil and Cicero.
Anyway, if this is the case, I would expect a longer time period for any future American culture – after the final fall of the US empire in 2178 or whenever, another medieval period, and only then a new civilization.
Re: Gypsy Moths
The first time I recall an infestation of Gypsy moths as an adult (I wasn’t really paying attention as a child) was in the early 1980’s, the devastation was massive and when we walked outside, the sound of the frass falling was as loud as rain; we were afraid our area of beautiful old oaks would be destroyed.
The following year the state DEP said they were back, but we noticed less defoliation; the year after that, even less. I recall that my dad, a microbiologist, told me that a disease and/or fungus of some sort had arisen to cull the numbers so I’ve checked around to make sure my memory is accurate and, in fact, the moths were infected by both: Nucleopolyhedrovirus and the fungus Entomophaga maimaiga. At the time lot of people in our area had had their trees sprayed to kill the larvae – I’m not sure whether the pest control companies were actually using the virus or fungus or some chemical instead – which turned out to be a waste of money in the end since Nature did the work herself.
I keep hoping that something will come along to infect the varroa mites that plague my honeybees. In the meantime, beekeepers will have to keep treating their bees to keep them alive. I’ve heard of no-treatment beekeepers, but they seem to be located mainly in warm climates. Unfortunately, one of the effects of a mite infestation is that bees are unable to build up the body fat necessary to make it through winter. In the South that may not be an issue, but here in the frozen North it is and the hive loss every winter is pretty frightening.
That question kind of raised my hackles just thinking about it! As a kid I was definitely more socialist/leftist leaning. As I’ve gotten older, and especially after 7 years in China, I’m a lot more conservative. I know you’ve tried for years to get your readers to think in terms of ecosystems and nature, one of those keys being history, when understanding the human element. But nothing until this post got me thinking of governments as related to ecosystems.
Now I can understand why an established government, such as the USA, would want to regulate immigration. And just about everything else. The system has stabilized this way. Introducing something new can result in problems which won’t be fixed until everything else reaches a stabilization. Just like the Great Lakes systems in the example above, whether we like it or not, as life goes on, something new will be introduced.
An other example: Russel lupines are seen as “invasive” in many countries, in spite of the fact that they are impossible to stop (they spread along roads and their seeds can rest in 15-20 years etc.). I have personally found that they improve poor soils, can be used as mulch, and that my sheep prefer them over almost any other plant in our pastures. Studies in New Zealand have shown that at least sheep tolerate them very well even if the pasture is dominated by them. Since my sheep love them, the lupines will not dominate the pasture, but with no grazing they become very dense in moist soils.
Russel lupines are sprayed with herbicides in nature conservation areas of New Zealand: “DOC spent close to $147,000 on Project River Recovery Russell lupin control in the Mackenzie Basin in 2014–15 and is this year budgeting a similar amount for the upper Waitaki Basin alone.” source: https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/war-of-the-lupins/
Thanks for this fascinating discussion. You may be interested to check out my book Beyond the War on Invasive Species: A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015). Invasive species and our understanding and management of them represent so many critical issues of our time, especially our relationship with the natural world.
Dear JMG, and not withstanding what I said before, here are some lines from a poem (Langston Hughes) that are almost a prophecy of your vision of America:
‘O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.’
> Everywhere the zebra mussel has spread in the US and Canada the cost has been the extinction of numerous native mussel species. This is especially true in the shallow warmer waters of Lake Erie. Apparently biodiversity does not concern you.
Apparently you have reading comprehension problem if your takeaway from a story about a mussel that could turn a river of toxic goo livable again is that it’s a “bioversity” problem because it can harm “native mussel species”.
As if a polluted river, with no fish and toxic water is more “biodiverse” than the same river cleaned up but with fewer native mussel species…
You also have a manners problem, not just from jumping to conclusions, but also for putting them out in a rude and smug manner: “apparently biodiversity does not concern you”.
When our boys were small and had guinea pigs, almost unsurpassed among house pets for their drive to chew on anything, we, too, had a problem with electrical cords. Eventually, we got a length of hose from a discarded shop vac and put cords through that and into the wall outlet. The hose was ugly, but easy to cut to length, reasonably flexible, and it did protect the cords so the pigs didn’t do any damage. Not sure if it tasted bad, had too big a diameter for them to get a good grip with their little mouths or the surface was too slick for gnawing, but it outlasted a series of guinea pigs and one house rabbit. You may be able to pick up something similar that a neighbor is getting rid of.
Dandelions: Interestingly, words for the flower in European languages seem to fall (with some exceptions) into two large groups, those with some variation of “piss in the bed” such as French (pissenlit) and others in which the name means “lion’s tooth”. German: Löwenzahn, Danish: løvetand, Spanish: diente de león. Portuguese and Norwegian also refer to lions’ teeth. It looks like our English word fits into this second group.
@ Teresa: The squirrels in my neighborhood are far too well fed, especially including all the peaches just before they get ripe. I console myself for the loss of the peaches with the thought that there may come a time when I need squirrel stew.
Will J., you have touched on one of the big problems of contemporary society: we have no idea what a healthy community would look like, and so don’t have the data and the experiences to compare this with our contemporary society. This makes it more difficult to see if certain things are simply the way things are, or if they are just properties of a skewed society which has gone off the rails.
It’s been quite a diet of late between my reading of T.R. Fehrenbach’s Lone Star and this blog along with the comments. I think last week you mentioned in a comment how industrialism is a path in human society much like hunter-gathering led to agriculture. Fehrenbach made a comment in the chapter called “Secession” about Toynbee considering the Ohio Valley a source of the great culture here, connecting it with industrialism. In light of this weeks post, industrialism really is just a feature of human ecology which has lots of bugs to be worked out, much like invasive species bring something new to an ecology which has to be worked out. It’s rather exciting to be aware that a great culture likely will be arising within the Ohio Valley, and that one of it’s features will likely be a form of industrialism with many bugs worked out so that there are less social, moral, and governmental issues.
It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. Will the formation of a great culture within the Ohio Valley require secession? Or will our US society be able to learn from other great civilizations and simply allow for a transformation? And one of the more exciting things is what role can we play in planting, watering, and providing for what comes next.
Beekeeper, check out Keeping Bees With a Smile by Fedor Lazutin. His premise is that modern bees & hives were developed for temperate climates, and different ones are better suited to colder climates.
Re the conference experience
It is a fascinating thing to be a part of. I talked with a number of older farmers, got told some off-color (but funny) jokes by one from KS, chatted with a guy from Saskatchewan about energy use and how we got rid of our TV, and had a discussion about potato varieties with a Mennonite couple from MN. But everyone there was involved or interested in organic farming.
Re remediation and pollution
The first workshop I attended on Saturday was on environmental remediation via mushrooms. The speaker was incredibly good and I plan on getting a copy of his book (the conference bookstore sold out before I could grab one). I haven’t perused his website yet but here it is:
From the workshop, it seems he has done a lot of work on researching (and applying) fungal solutions to environmental clean-up problems.
To give some flavor of his presentation, his opening line was “I’ve been growing mushrooms for 26 years. Legally, for 24.”
@ the discussion re modeling nature
Not that it bears on the discussion terribly, but the subject brought to mind Asimov’s _Foundation_series and the point in _Prelude To Foundation_ that the key finding of younger Hari Seldon’s initial research was that he had been able to show that the galactic system could be modeled by a system smaller than itself.
Surely somebody must have had this thought before:
The current climate of the earth is unusually cold. Quite spectacularly so. This is not good for life. Polar ice caps may have some stark beauty, but the biomass they support is minimal.
Maybe Earth wants to be warmer.
Maybe Gaia uses a strange species of hairless chimpanzee to release C02 that has been sequestered away to prevent overheating in an era of different continental constellations.
The current dry and cold conditions would otherwise go on for another few million years.
Maybe Gaia has had enough of this experiment and wants to go back to the sultry steamy jungle planet she used to be?
We have certainly proved to be highly effective at desequestering (is that actually a word?) CO2.
Maybe this is our purpose in the greater scheme of things.
The change required may be the end of industrial civilisation, but that is a very fragile arrangement anyway, and Gaia has more important things to worry about.
It wont be the end of mankind.
Living in a steamy tropical place is not that bad for heat adapted hairless apes like us.
I know that because I live in the tropics and I am a (mostly) hairless ape.
Beekeeper in Vermont–there are experiments on crossbreeding with Africanized bees which respond to varroa mites with increased grooming. Of course the African bees are not adapted to cold weather so it may take some generations to get the desired behavior in a strain that will survive in cold climates. On a happier note apparently dogs can be trained to recognize foulbrood.
I can’t recall who commented on the tendency to choose sides in conflicts between animal species but when _Dances with Wolves_ came out I was puzzled as to why the Pawnee were portrayed as villains. They were in conflict with the Lakota that the protagonist initially becomes friends with, true, but why should a 20th century film take sides in that conflict? It didn’t make sense. Historically the European invaders would aid tribes that had agreed to trade with them or who controlled resources they were willing to share–so you get the French allied with the Algonquin and the British with the Iroquois and both sides using the native tribes as guerrilla troops in their imperial wars. Similarly, the Crow agreed to scout for the cavalry against the Dakotas. Then you have the curious phenomenon of the British in the Middle East preferring the claims of the Bedouin Arabs against the town dwelling peoples of the same stock. Very odd.
In regards to cougars, I have never heard them referred to as ‘painters’ up here in northern New Hampshire, though it may simply be that the term disappeared along with the eastern cougar. Still people swear up and down they have seen one. Though often it turns out to be a bobcat misidentified by flatlanders unfamiliar with wildlife, I suspect there are a few genuine sightings. These are almost certainly western cougars out roaming about looking for new territory. One was struck and killed by a car in Connecticut about a decade ago that had ID tags showing it originated from the Black Hills of South Dakota. Quite the epic journey! So it is likely a matter of time before a few manage to hook up and begin breeding, if they haven’t done so already.
Another top predator that may be making a comeback up north here is the wolf. I have a brother who is an avid deer hunter and hunts up in the Colebrook, Milan area. Far northern New Hampshire is heavily wooded with deer, moose, coyotes, rabbits, bobcats, bears and just about anything else you can think of. About five or six years ago he was hunting in November and while on his deer stand, he heard the call of a wolf. He has heard coyotes howling any number of times and says there is a distinct difference. It seemed to be only one wolf making a contact call trying to see if other wolves were about.
But as they say, where there’s smoke …..
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about invasive species. As a gardener with a small urban lot, I’m always fighting some weed. I dug up half my front yard going after black swallowwort this past year and have even used a bit of Roundup on it. But the weeds will outsmart you, and sometimes you do more damage to the ecosystem trying to remove them than if you had left them alone.
I work with (and sometimes against) sewage treatment plants to reduce how much they pollute. Whatever you want to say about them, they do an important job. Until people stop using water to flush their wastes, someone will need to clean that water before it goes back out into the environment. At my workplace, I’m that crazy person who talks up composting toilets as the better solution, but it’s like shouting into the wind. Things will have to get a lot worse for people to get over the ick factor and their love of flush toilets.
Justin: Felis Terribilus is already among us and has been seen prowling urban streets in the Rocky Mountains. They are also Florida’s state land mammal. Very handsome animals, like most big cats.
David vanErp: I once went out of town for a weekend about the time my apricots were getting ripe. I came back to find the tree entirely stripped.The fence around my house would have kept out anything on two legs or four, but plenty of the thieves in this city have wings and feathers. So I sympathize. And squirrels are probably better eating than mourning doves.
Will, thank you, alas, we haven’t managed to keep a hive for many years but the feral honeybees and bumble bees serve very well out here. We have lindens and Russian olives, which they adore. The chickens are fond of the olives as well.
Brother Greer-not just humans find knapweed toxic, but animals wild and domestic as well. I wonder how easily they burn, since wildfire is a constant companion for native species and imports alike out here. I don’t recollect seeing them after the burn three-quarters mile away six years ago, I’ll have to look into that. We’ve been tossing around the idea of doing controlled burning of our place this coming spring . . . either you work with nature’s desires for fire out here or she indulges them in spite of your best efforts. Perhaps the annoyance of knapweed is a time to burn warning.
A quick search yields only this referring to wildfires, and that not much: https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/forb/acrrep/all.html which seems to me to be best sumerized as “it would be really nice if some of our colleagues would research what happens with wildfires and Russian Knapweed.”
I think I see a possible experiment here.
Every species, literally every single one of them, was at some point invasive. This is not to say introducing species at random is a good idea, but the notion any species can take over an ecosystem permanently, and will always cause issues, seems to be a little absurd to me.
I wish I had a solution to the conundrum! Unfortunately, every society that exists today is either exploited, or so isolated we don’t know enough about it to say anything for sure one way or another. My hope is that study of past cultures will do it. The issue is that this involves learning from the past, one of the great taboos of our time!
Your post about the values humans place on different landscapes got me thinking. The landscape feature I value most is a constant presence of water. Without water retention, Australian landscapes seem locked in a march towards entropic death, whatever other management efforts are made. With water, our landscapes are incredibly stable and resilient despite other adverse events. Where water retention is restored to areas where the hydrology was destroyed by European farming techniques (often deliberately – damp ground=foot rot in sheep), it doesn’t go back to what was once there. Instead, it reminds me a lot of the descriptions of some parts of Detroit – new and strange forms of incredible vibrancy and growth amidst the ruins of prior decay.
Our native plants used to do a superb job of managing landscape hydrology to retain the water from floods and release it slowly across years/decades so there was always fresh, clean water available. However, often the native plants just can’t re-establish at all in the current conditions. The exotic plants by contrast seem to be superbly adapted to dealing with the effects of industrial farming practices in a wide variety of landscapes, including the ability to take over the management of landscape hydrology. Of course, the adaptions that allow the exotics to do this are precisely those aspects that cause them to be most feared by the two main classes of landscape managers (the nativist restorationists and the industrial farmers).
With this vague idea that the hydrology was the most important part of landscape management here, I’ve always looked at the type of plants on top as secondary and relevant only to whether they are ‘improving’, or not, the hydrology. After thought, though, I see that this view is just as value laden as the nativist regenerators or the farming pastoralists. It’s just that my priority seems to be maximising total biomass production (influenced by a permaculture viewpoint), rather than the considerations that regenerators and pastoralists hold. In each case, though, as you rightfully pointed out, we’re still managing and valuing the ecosystem in terms of what it can do for us…
Hello, JMG. I have been thinking about having a conversation with nature, but am realising that that forces me to twist words. What I mean is, there seem to be two contradictory meanings that commonly intertwine in our usage of the term “nature”. One is “everything”. And one is “everything [not human]”.
Sticking to the first definition, then if I am having a conversation with nature, or even if we are having a conversation with nature, then it is the kind of conversation a part has with a whole. “Pee” my bladder might say to me. “Not now, I’m busy” I might say to my bladder. Wet trousers might be my bladder’s wordless reply to me ignoring it for too long. That is the kind of conversation a part can have with a whole.
But if we use the second definition, it gets more ridiculous. If I am having conversations with sheep, or with birds, or with soil in my garden, am I conversing with nature? ie with “everything [not human]”. I mean is a sheep or a bird or the soil in my garden “everything”? I don’t think so. Each is a part of everything (whether that everything includes humans or not, although at the moment of our conversation, “everything” for THEM, clearly DOES include humans.
So, it feels to me as if a word for “everything” can mean something, although I would still have to converse with it as a cell to the body it is in, or a drop to an ocean, it feels more and more like trying to make it into a word that means “everything[not human]” is weird and perverse, and also ridiculous.
I must say, I can definitely “feel” the perversity of your “Radiance” villains, who think to step themselves out of “everything” when stepping out of “nature”.
To Chris of Fernglade: I live a little north of you and the Kookaburras here are said to have worked out how to kill and eat cane toads without poisoning themselves. Apparently they stab them in the back of the neck.
Something that gives me hope for the future is that Australia ‘s per capita output has dropped a little and so how has our place in the tables. This is definitely without government help.
In my gardening business I am forever arguing with my clients about weeding, and especially about digging. Seeds lie dormant in the earth for years, and the most prolific of them only need a fraction of a second of sunlight to germinate. So digging out weeds creates more weeds..
My most successful weed solution hands down so far has been thick layers of cardboard over the weeds, topped with several centimetres (10 is good) of woody mulch. The persistent weeds do eventually make it through, but in a very weakened state so they are easy to pull out, and if you keep on doing it and adding more much they get discouraged. All plants require at least a little photosynthesis to survive. Add more mulch every year. I find this a great long-term solution for a suburban garden. Plus, the woody mulch encourages growth of fungi. The mycelium threads break down the mulch into beautiful forest floor-like soil, and promotes plant growth at the same time. It’s a win-win.
As a lifelong Cleveland area resident, I know about the pretty Dreissena polymorpha. And if people were less phobic about invasive species, maybe I could have the pet I want (Herpestes auropunctatus).
There’s been talk of breeding hygenic honeybees since I started beekeeping almost two decades ago. Perhaps it’s turned out to be more difficult than initially thought.
As far as encouraging bees to groom themselves, that’s one of the ideas behind using powdered sugar with a duster to coat the bees inside a hive, but there seems to be conflicting data as to its effectiveness. I have used powdered sugar in the past, but having done additional reading this winter I realize I was not applying it often enough: some sources recommend every hive every three days for several weeks in summer. The downside – other than the need to disturb the bees every three days – is that nothing makes bees angrier than being covered in powdered sugar, and they stay nasty angry for many hours afterwards. Plenty of stings on powdered sugar days. On the other hand, sugar syrup in a sprayer calms them down and I do use that (my theory: they still have to clean themselves off), but I’ve got no data on how the two forms of sugar compare as miticides. Otherwise, we stick to methods that are approved for organic producers, because I’m not interested in handling the hard chemicals (to which the mites are developing resistance anyway). We did not have this much of a problem with mites back when we lived in northeastern Pennsylvania; there we might lose one colony every couple of years over the winter. The conditions in Vermont are very different, although European bees are quite hardy in cold weather as long as the humidity in the hive is controlled.
Here in our neck of the Green Mountains (Windsor County) we’ve got coyotes aplenty and it’s really eerie to hear their howls echo through the mountains at night. Frightens house guests to no end. I’ve never seen one, but our nearest neighbor has seen them come right up to his house during the day. Red foxes show up now and then. We’ve had to chase a mink out of the chicken coop once, often we can hear a Barred Owl right outside our windows at night and every fall a bear or two comes by to grab the drops under the apple trees, but otherwise the wildlife is mostly the cute kind: chipmunks, red squirrels, groundhogs (well, not so cute), and the occasional white-tailed deer. Very disappointed that I haven’t seen a moose, although my husband saw one out on the paved road last year, just sort of ambling along.
@ dropBear @Feb 24, 2019 at 5:26 pm
“…Maybe Gaia has had enough of this experiment and wants to go back to the sultry steamy jungle planet she used to be? …”
I have often wondered this very thing. I have a theory that the planet just wants to be covered in water and trees. I have no proof, other than that if you quit mowing your yard for twenty years, you get the beginning of a forest, and where you have more trees, you get more rain, etc.
Evolutionary change is indeed constant on our planet. However, barring some catastrophic event which causes a mass extinction, species turnover generally occurs at a slower rate than is happening right now. This is one reason some scientists are calling this the “sixth extinction,” because the rate of species loss due to habitat disruption is much faster than the normal evolutionary rate. The driver of this state of affairs is us, as we have re-written the face of the earth massively in the past few thousand years (an eyeblink in geological time).
When you combine species loss with opportunistic invasions of alien species, you can end up with what are basically dead zones, or non-ecosystems. Here in northern Minnesota we have vast tracts of monocultures made up of plants like tansy. This development is not the same as the species turnover and ecosystem evolution which you cite as being the norm (which it once was) but rather a de-complexifying of dynamic ecosystems into stasis.
I happen to do habitat restoration, even though I know I’m “pissing in the wind.” Or maybe it’s like sticking my finger in the dike to hold back the sea, knowing that at some point that dike will break, or–to use another anology–the final block will be pulled out of the Jenga tower and the biosystems that support us will come crashing down.
And even if we could avoid that, we’re in line for another super volcano or massive meteor strike which will make this discussion moot.
But let’s not throw stones at the people who are trying to protect other forms of life on this planet, even if they are sometimes misguided. There are so few people right now who haven’t bought into the whole anthropocentric (i.e. collectively narcissistic) programme of us first in all things. When it comes to mankind’s use of the earth, it’s been “I, me, mine” all the way, which is one reason other species are in the mess they’re in. Other voices should have their say, even if most people don’t listen. The species we’re displacing of course don’t have any voice at all, except for the harm their absence will cause us after they are gone.
MY Dad kept bees. They’re fascinating for a kid to watch (from a prudent distance!).
“La nature est toujours là pourtant, elle oppose ses ailes calmes et ses raisons a la folie des hommes.”
I like the nuanced view that you are presenting but today’s post can easily be (mis)read as deifying nature or evolution. I don’t think that was your intent.
Yes evolution is a great problem solver but there are many limits imposed by physics and chemistry. For example some elements (like phosphorus) are irreplaceable. No plant or animal can survive without it.
There are many other examples – why no metal bones?
And plastics and tires are designed to be hard to digest by bacteria. They have strong chemical bonds and contain poisons (like sulphur) that slow down even the best bacteria. I think for some of those products (plus radioactive waste) only the subduction of continental plates will finally “decompose” them.
I’ve been reading the 3rd chapter of “on the origin of species “ and Charles Darwin mentioned a few things that have a lot to do with this weeks topic
1-He says that there are no feral cows or dogs in Paraguay because there is a large population of a type of fly that lays eggs in the navel of the animals young, but if a insect eating bird became numerous enough to control the fly then presumably feral cows and dog would exist in Paraguay. Does anyone know if this has come to pass?
2- he also mentioned that “humble-bees” are more common near villages because cats eat the mice that would usually eat the bees’ honeycomb. Has anything similar been recorded?
Output of carbon.
The talk of invasive species reminds me of a story of a public master thesis in a Swiss university some years ago. A pair of students were researching the scourge of invasive mussels. In the course of their project, they have assembled an impressive array of industrial scale-pumps and drained a patch of swampland in their search of the invadr. They have found two (!) specimens of the offensive species. When an examiner asked them if they would recommend such an approach to fighting the invasive mussel in the Geneva Lake, they replied that indeed their strategy could be scaled up, and is strongly advised, to general mirth.
This true tale seems to me quite representative of a certain type of mentality – people just doing their jobs, with a moronic disregard for wider circumstances, or even common sense. This approach is at least partially responsible for any predicament humanity has ever found itself in. Furthermore, it should make us sceptical of any top-to-bottom imposed solutions, as even good ideas are likely to be implemented in a mindless way and lead to unforeseen consequences.
@NomadicBeer: Horror of plastic is surely a good incentive to reduce consumption! On the other hand, I don’t doubt that, given enough time, microorganisms will evolve the capacity to degrade it. Marine bacteria do already degrade petroleum (see the Deepwater Horizon spill). There are organisms capable of degrading wax (chemically similar to some plastics), chitin and lignin, which are probably tougher than plastic. And certain archaea depend on the reduction of sulphur.
To the extent anyone is interested, ran across this link today:
CO2 emissions by state, 2005-2016
I believe this is a regular, annually-updated analysis. There is a link to the full report toward the upper right.
JMG: From Magic Monday, but – re Plutonian themes – I’m a member of the Pluto in Leo subset of of the late Silent Generation, which provided a good many early public hippies. And Leo in in my 7th house. With Mars & Venus both in Scorpio, both considered to be ruled by Pluto when I had my horoscope done by the local astrologer, that says something.
Yet, speaking of such influences, I noticed the covers of your novels – even Retropia, which was supposed to be about a *good* place to live – show depressing scenes. Retropia, frex, shows a bunch of men with their heads down in the rain. Was that on purpose?
do you have read something from Miyazaky “Nausicaa from the Valley of the Wind”?
It was conceived as a Manga (1982, drawn by Myiazaky) and then it had a transposition as animated movie (in 1984, directed by Miyazaky himself )
The thematic of nature adapting to filter out the waste and pollution that men have unleashed on Earth, is a central theme of the opera.
Go and read/watch it. It is a great masterpiece
Have a nice day
Excellent as always. Bit late to this, but yes there is a lot of nonsense about how ALL the insects are going to die out, because we have changed the temperatures a bit and treated our crops with pesticides. Meanwhile over here in the UK there is a lot of hand-wringing about those invasive American species, the signal crayfish and escaped Mink. The signal crayfish is bigger than the UK native species and is more immune to a virus which kills of the native species. It is also tastier. I am fortunate to have a running stream and have trapped a couple of crayfish for fun rather than eating. Funnily enough the invasive mink has also turned up and spends a lot of time predating these crayfish. I also keep campbell ducks and on occasion their food have attracted rats. The mink does frequently turn up and get rid of the rats. The ducks are large enough not to be bothered by either. So all in all I am quite happy with our invaders and in future years the crayfish will no doubt keep a few of our plucky descendants alive.
Re: OP — It’s not that simple. The problem with the mussels is that they are not just returning the lake to its previous state, they are making the water cleaner than it ever was. Too clean, in fact. They are eating up nutrients that other creatures in the food chain need. Or so I’ve heard from various sources over the years.
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