Category Archives: conservation
Warning this review contains spoilers of the sort that go beyond a basic knowledge of the bible story.
All good myths require imagination and the power to suspend disbelief, and the Noah story is no different to that. In its original Biblical form its a retelling of some kind of universal near eastern story of a time when a great flood came. You find different versions of the same story in other texts too.
But the Hebrews used this story to not just deal with some half forgotten history, but to add to the conversation around two questions – who is God? And is humanity worth saving from itself?
That is what this new version of the old story does too.
Using plenty of imagination, as befits the telling of a myth director Darren Aronofsky conjures up an antediluvian world of almost surreal proportions. He gives the drama a dreamlike quality, in the same way that a memory highlights certain colours and textures, and fades other detail into obscurity.
He deals cleverly and subtly with the notion of how God speaks to Noah, using a combination of dream and psychotropic experiences to reveal the creator’s plans. This will surely disappoint those who prefer the Sunday school idea of such communication. However, despite its grotesque proportions, it is all the more real for that.
Another piece of re imagining comes in the casting of the Nephilim as rock bound creatures, difficult for those of us who prefer to imagine them as models of muscle bound masculinity. However, the really wonderful thing about his re imagining of these ‘Watchers’ (a term taken directly from the extra/non/orthodox canonical) text of Enoch is the way he uses them to tell their own story of love and redemption.
The great problem for those of us who read the story through an understanding of a God who is love, is the prevalence of the myth of redemptive violence. I thought that this would be a problem in the film too, that we would still have to deal with a vengeful God who wants to visit death and destruction on evil humans.
But actually the story overcomes this, and this is the great ‘arc’ of this myth, it’s Noah’s great realisation that his mission is not to see humans wiped out for their sin, and thereby to recreate the garden in its virginal purity. Instead his mission is fulfilled when he realises that the love he has in his heart is what God wants.
Aronofsky uses some license to get there, the device of the babies is his key interjection into the story, should Noah kill the children to fulfill his mission from God? When he finds he cant do so, he feels that he has failed, he becomes deeply depressed, he fears the the love he has in his heart for his grandchildren makes him weak, and of no use to God.
His epiphany comes as he realises eventually that love is his mission, his broken, loving and weak heart is what God wants. It is then that the new covenant comes into place.
Another clever addition to the story is the incorporation of Tubal Cain into the tale, he is recast not as Naameh’s brother as in the original text, but as the king, or ‘chief of the baddies’.
What he wants is to seize equality with God by force, he wants to take it – this is the fall story still in place. That man can be equal with God by eating the fruit. Tubal Cain is the antithesis to the eventual ideal type Noah.
Tubal Cain wants to recreate paradise too, but another sort of paradise, he wants to see the power of humanity dominant over nature – and this is the other great arc, the environmental theme of stewardship over dominance. Aronofsky seems to play on this heavily, and he’s right to do so, it’s a contemporary addition to the story, but one which has all the more relevance for that.
The way this works out is in Noah’s killing of Tubal Cain, another part of his supposed ‘duty’.
One final addition to the story is that of Methuselah, played as a wise ancient Shaman who has a fascination with finding berries before he dies. For all his powers, he cannot find the berry he wants, until his last moment, when God in a gift of small amounts but epic proportions reveals a berry to him, just before he meets his death.
So yes, this is a meditation on the nature of God, revealing eventually a God who is loving, who doesn’t command death and destruction, but who is misunderstood and disobeyed (obey comes from the Latin and has a close association with the word listen) by all but a few. It’s a God who grants small kindnesses, who sees into the hearts of humanity, and loves them.
And it’s a meditation on the nature of humanity, for from earth (humus) they came. It recognises humans as capable of great wickedness and of great love.
Acting wise I was impressed by everyone, except perhaps Emma Watson, who I found unconvincing. I didn’t desperately like the fight scenes, but I don’t like them usually anyway – they were however a necessary dramatic device.
It was both massively divergent from the original text, and simultaneously totally faithful to the spirit of it, and that is what makes it very very Biblical. Those who want more Biblical literalism will hate it no doubt. I thought it was excellent.
Inspired by a tweet by the excellent @ruthvalerio yesterday, I want to address an issue that many people are mulling over.
Have we now reached a ‘point of no return’ in terms of the environment? Have we done such aggregious damage to the systems and materials of our world that it will never recover?
This is a complex question, and one which I am not really qualified to answer (not going to let a little thing like that stop me though).
Firstly let’s be clear, things will never be the same as they were. We cannot regain the world we had 100 years ago, 1000 years ago, or 1000,000 years ago. That world does not exist – it is gone, we cannot recreate it. The reality is that we have dug, drilled, exploded and concreted our way to a whole new kind of existance. So this is where we start from.
Secondly we have to recognise that the world we live in, is an eco system. We have to look at it from a macro perspective, and when we do we see a very large, complex system which we are all dependant upon, but which will almost certainly outlast each of us and has amazing ability to cope with the most attrocious treatment.
Thirdly we need to accept that way we live now is not sustainable. We are heavily dependent upon fossil fuels which we have expended incredible amounts of money upon extracting from the earth. If we are to talk about tipping point, or points of no return, then I think its fair to say that we’ve gone past such a point with oil. If we continue to treat oil like a cheap resource, then we are in trouble. The fact is that we all need to readdress our consumption patterns – our waste – and our philosophy of ‘stuff’.
Lets be clear, there are serious people talking about digging up landfill sites to get to buried caches of plastic because we’re running so short of resources. People in the waste management sector recognise the massive clanger we’ve collectively dropped, and are trying to do something about it.
But if we continue to live the way we are now, there is little point in them doing so. The only way we can change things (and I think we can change things) is to collectively choose to live differently. I think that in certain circles there are encouraging signs in this.
I’m encouraged that there is a growth within society of people looking at alternative ways of living a mainstream life. It is now acceptable in the mainstream to talk about co-housing, responsible food consumption, and so on. More people are eating less meat, more people are choosing to share accomodation rather than heat empty houses. These are good things, and I hope they become more mainstream as they really do have an impact on our environmental footprint.
However, these things alone, just like ensuring you do your recycling, are not enough. They are really only a sticking plaster on a severed limb.
The only thing that is going to reattach that limb is surgery, and that needs to come from two directions.
1) Massive and immediate remedial action needs to take place – substantial amounts of investment needs to be made into safeguarding precious resources and addressing ecological damage. Cooperative action needs to happen now to stop destruction of forests, to halt degradation of sea beds, and to put an end to greater exploitation of fossil fuel resources. The government in the Uk has recently trumpeted about a new oil field north of Scotland – (phew – more cheap petrol, what a relief!) No – stop this insanity! Halt that investment, let petrol prices go up to reflect the reality of this precious resource, that’s what will make people use less oil. Invest instead in renewable resources, and (gulp) nuclear power too – although it grieves me to say it.
2) At the same time as fixing the damage, we need to change our lifestyles. We have an addiction to stuff, and that needs to be broken. We have an addiction to oil and that needs to be broken. We have an addiction to imagining that we are the only people in the world that matter – and that really really really needs to be broken. There are various things which need to happen to make these changes real – price increases for sure are going to be important – petrol prices will make people seek alternative forms of transport, I predict it and I also see it around me already. The western consumer mentality needs to be broken too, but that will be a harder nut to crack.
My prescription for that would be the most simple thing of all, and also the hardest.
We need to learn to love.
If we can learn to love, love those who are near and those who are further away, we might be able to pull back from the brink of ecological devastation. The world as an eco system has amazing capacity for self healing, but while we continue to ignore each other and the world around us, it is not getting the chance to do so.
If we can learn to love one another, then there is a chance. We will become less selfish, care more about the needs of others, recognise the need for self sacrifice in the interests of the greater good.
What will happen if we dont do that? Well there is a very good chance that the world as an eco system will find another way to survive, and my prediction on that is that it will involve a lot of death. Large scale desertification will occur, wars will be fought over food and water (in small ways they already are in fact) just as they have over oil.
Humans are clever creatures, we’ll find ways of allowing ourselves to continue our hyper consumer lifestyles, but it will be at a big cost – payable in blood. That or, we collectively begin to change our ways – and start to behave as if we really give a toss. We need to learn to love, need to turn away from selfishness, need to collectively repent. Either that or face the prospect of terrible loss of life, and a great deal of blood on our hands.
Tirupur in India is one of the world’s centres for clothing production. Sitting next to the city of Coimbatore, Tirupur is a place I have visited on a number of occasions, to visit factories, print shops, dye houses and so on.
Principally Tirupur is home to knit wear factories, they make tee-shirts and other knitted cotton items, many of which find their way to high street chains here in the UK.You may be wearing something right now that was made in Tirupur.
Certainly if you buy from shops like supermarkets or the larger chain stores, then there is a very good chance you have items which were made in Tirupur. But as well as being home to a few high standard production units, Tirupur has also struggled in recent years, with a reputation for production facilities which are not what they could be – or should be. Where workers are, if not necessarily mistreated (although sometimes that is the case), then not given the respect or conditions that they deserve. This is not a malice thing, it is about costs. If you are looking at saving a few cents on each garment, then you arent going to spend as much on your workforce, or their workplace.
Hand in hand with this kind of treatment of humans, has gone harsh treatment of the environment. One of the most environmentally damaging aspects of the clothing supply chain is the dye process – because of the scale of production, the dye plants are huge things, with massive amounts of chemicals used on a daily basis. The usual process for the kind of fabric which teeshirts are made of, is Jet dyeing, where fabric is zoomed through a process where jets of hot water containing dye and other chemicals are pumped into them – this process uses large amounts of electricity, steam and of course the chemicals themselves.
The problem comes of course, not so much in the dyeing process itself, which is energy intensive but contained, but in the disposal of effluent. There has to be an issue of effluent after the dying process, and it will necessarily contain, among other nasties, large quantities of salt – as anyone who has dyed a piece of fabric at home will know.
The cheapest way of getting rid of such effluent is to dump it in a water course, and that is what most operators do, they simply pump their polluting effluent into nearby rivers. This kind of pollution has meant that the agricultural land in the area has been badly affected by pollution and salination over a number of years.
Attempts have been made to set this right, plants have been prosecuted and closed down, even the British government got involved (they realised we import 90%+ of our clothes, and recognised we have some responsibility to the producers) and for a while Tirupur began to be held up as an example of ‘best practise’. Levels were set to regulate the amount of salt in effluent, to try and protect the surrounding farmland, and it all seemed to be going in the right direction.
Not for long of course.
This week comes the news that Madras high court has ordered over 700 dye plants to be shut down – yes, 700. The local electricity board has begun to shut off power to those who have failed to comply with the order. The reason is that the level of salt in the effluent discharged into the local water courses is too high. Once again farmland has been terribly damaged by discharge of salt – and its the dye houses which are to blame.
As it stands the 700 plants are on shut down, thousands of jobs which go with that are at risk or already lost – suppliers will not be getting their materials, clothing supply will be affected. Farmland is polluted and will not produce a proper harvest this year, and meanwhile people continue to buy cheap clothes because they dont see the link.
I actually feel rather sorry for the dye house owners and operators, they are in a hard world, trying to provide a service against very tight price demands – I genuinely feel that we, the consumers and producers are not really being fair on them.
I feel that at the centre of it all, it’s our consumption that is driving this pollution problem, it’s our quest for a bargain that is putting lives and livelihoods at risk, and it’s our choices which have meant that today many poor people stand on the brink of ruin.
So yes, 700 dye houses are closed today, and I’m sorry to have to tell you that it is pretty much our fault.
It’s been a long time coming, but this afternoon, at long last I was back out on our allotment again. Except to drop off compost I have not spent any time on the allotment since the Autumn, and it shows, I mean it really shows.
Most of the plots which are under cultivation have been freshly dug, or are at least looking tidy, mine on the other hand looks like a disaster, broken glass on my cold frame and in my greenhouse, overgrown beds, long grass everywhere, and plenty of unpromising looking mud.
But its all grist to the mill, today I put two of the beds back to rights (more or less) ready to be raked and cultivated a bit more, before they can be planted. Lots of work to do all over the plot, but I’m glad to say that in the couple of places where I placed sheets of damp proofing plast last year, in an attempt to sheet mulch them, the ground beneath the plastic is now nice and clear, and ready for cultivation.
Everywhere needs a good tidy and sort out, which it will only really get in part, I dont really want it to be too tidy if I’m honest. I like there to be room for creatures to hide and flourish, and I love the variety of bees, beetles, butterflies and bugs that pootle around there in the summer months.
And most of all I like to sit down after some work, and enjoy a hot drink. I had to relearn the art of making fire when wood is damp and newspaper in short supply, but it didnt take long.
If you dont have a garden or access to an allotment, then try and find some other outdoor space that you can spend time in, and if possible, grow things in, it is pure therapy, it helps to reharmonise you with nature, and nothing is quite as relaxing as knowing you have accomplished a job.
That’s right folks, its the first Kelly Kettle picture of the year from me, fear not, there are bound to be more. If you’re wondering, the plastic tub is what I like to think of as my tinder box, containing cotton wool, and home made char cloth. Marvellous.
So I was recently to be found srabbling under the floorboards, amid the foundations of my ‘inlaws’ house, to look at a strange object…
I know it looks like a visitor from another planet, (it’s a bit dark down there) but in fact it’s just another house, but its a house which has been built by bumblebees.
We had seen lots of bumblebees flying in to that space through an air brick during the summer, carrying bits of leaf etc, and now we could see what they were making – it was massive, about the size of an almost spherical dinner plate. Pretty darn big for a bunch of bumblebees – they dont even have opposable thumbs! And it’s pretty dark down there too, try building something that big with no tools, no thumbs, in the dark. I doubt I could do it!
I was down there to encourage the aforementioned outlaws not to destroy said invertebrate domicile, although to be honest there was no way of being sure the fluffy little blighters were actually in there doing their hibernation thing, all was quiet on that front.
But I felt virtuous nonetheless, and I hope that the bees are in there, happily protected from wintry blasts, and ready to reproduce and pollinate again next year.
Today is the feast day of Saint Francis, the poor man of Assisi.
Francis founded the brotherhood now known as the Franciscans, and is widely regarded as a model of selfless Christian virtue. His commitment to radical living is respected across the traditions, but its worthy of note that very few of us are willing to follow too closely in his footsteps.
Here was a man who repented so thoroughly of his worldly ways that he gave up all of his possessions, choosing to abandon everything and rely solely on providence and charity. A difficult enough task for anyone, but consider that Francis was born into wealth and privelige, and from an early age had a reputation for being a party animal.
Francis demanded of his brothers a vow of poverty which was considered too extreme by his contemporaries, leading him to evenutally be deposed from the leadership of his own order.
His poverty wasnt tokenism either, he suffered for his choice, hard living and malnutrition leading to his becoming ill towards the end of his life (he only lived to 45), and going blind. When the pope heard of his blindness, he ordered that he should be operated on – which meant the cauterising of the eyes with red hot pokers – nice.
So Francis models radical devotion, selfless and without personal consideration. He reminds us that it is not the self publicists and the powerful who can have great influence for good. He reminds us that Christianity means suffering, that none of us are exempt from hardship because of virtue.
No wonder so few of us want to model any part of our lives on his, but love to talk glowingly of him as one of our favourite saints.
Just a note by the way – Francis was originally Christened Giovanni – which is ‘John’ after the Baptiser – his father demanded he be renamed Francesco and should become a businessman and dandy. It was only when he broke with his father’s expectations that he reclaimed the mantle of the itinerant prophet clad only in rags.
Francis too is remembered for his love of, and respect for, all nature. He has much to teach any of us who make pretentsion to care for the environment and the garden in which we live.
A truly important figure in the ongoing story which we are part of – and one on whom we need to turn more of our attention.
the other project the kids and I took on this last weekend was the building of a hedgehog house, in the (vain?) hope that our allotment would gain its own resident hedgehog. To be honest there are a number of places on the allotment site where a hedgehog could lie up undisturbed for months on end, so there’s no real reason they should come and find a home on my plot (especially as its quite near the kid’s tipi, hardly the most peaceful place for a small animal.)
But all these things notwithstanding, we made a hedgehog house for a little hibernating creature, and we’re hoping its gets occupied. In case you’re thinking about doing something similar, here’s how it was accomplished…
I started with an old homebrew barrel which I found dumped, I cut it roughly in half and made a wide doorway, so it looked like this…
You’ll notice the hole at the back of the barrel where there would have been some sort of tap at one stage. This is useful because the hedgehog house needs ventilation in order not to suffocate said small spiky creature.
So the half barrel has quite a low profile, and sits nicely on the ground, the kids and I found a nice sheltered place for it, with the bonus of a number of slugs living in the vicinity (not hard to find slugs on our plot).
I shoved some straw inside the half barrel, and put a tube on to the little hole at the back of the barrel, so that the ventilation wouldnt be blocked up by the earth when we covered the barrel over.
Which is what we did next, first covering the half barrel with earth, and then with branches and leaves etc, to give it a fairly natural appearance.
I should say that I also made an entrance tunnel, to give the house a bit of protection from intruders and elements and earth fall, the tunnel was basically just three pieces of wood crudely nailed together and plonked in front of the half barrel.
The result is a warm and safe little hedgehog house, detatched, composting loo…
Only problem is that it is a little overlooked, and the neighbours although very friendly can be a bit boisterous, especially when catapults and bows and arrows are brought into the equation, however your average hibernatign hedgehog shouldnt have too much to worry about.
The house is after all pretty discreet, and I think it represents a superb residential opportunity for a perambulating nocturnal small mammal.
In all seriousness, we should be encouraging a wide variety of wildlife in our gardens, hedgehogs are one of the nicer ones, and with a bit of luck spring could even see a few baby hedgehogs in residence (dont tell the foxes).
Next habitat job – the pond.
I managed to get to see ‘A farm for the future’ the first time it was shown, and thought it was great. A really encouraging, inspiring program – perhaps a little over enthusiastic at times, but all passionate stuff should be.
It starts with a bleak look ahead at peak oil crisis time, but soon moves into a look at permaculture and the ways it can (others disagree) provide an approach for a sustainable future.
They are showing it again on BBC 2 on saturday, 5.20pm – dont miss it this time, or at least catch it on iPlayer like I did, it is great!!
Having been a bit busy over the weekend, I took some time off today, and managed to get some gardening in – glorious weather yet again, positively sweltering in the in the greenhouse!
Still not convinced that we’re quite at the point where we should be planting out yet though, so apart from the garlic, which is coming on leaps and bounds after the application of some well brewed nettle ‘tea’, I’ve held off planting anything else.
The only thing I’m thinking of putting in are the Jerusalem Artichokes, which should be able to cope whatever happens weather wise.
I’ve got till good friday to prepare some ground for the first early potatoes, and I’m just about to have a bed ready for some broad beans too. The Peas will go in soon, and the carrots, and in fact once we get into April its going to be all go.
Am feeling very envious of those who have either used a rotavator or got a good raise bed system going. My limited time available for gardeing means that digging by hand is much longer and less instantly rewarding than rotavating, but I think of it like this: It’s my plot, and it also belongs to the myriad of other creatures living in it. By using hand tools, and staying closely in touch with the soil, I am minimising my negative impact on their home, and maximising my connection with it.
That and I’m a stupid middle class hippie wannabe, who ought to know better and will never make anything of himself if he carries on like this…
Today, for your reading pleasure I have two tales of high seas intrigue – the first to do with Whales, and the second to do with Somali pirates.
Let me explain…
Following on from yesterday’s post about sustainable fishing, I was intrigued to read about the adventures of the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin.
As you may already know, whale meat is now banned, as whales have been hunted to the edge of extinction in some parts of the world. But despite that, the Japanese whaling fleet is still in action, working in the name of ‘scientific research’. Yep – that justifies shooting whales with grenade tipped harpoons….
So the Steve Irwin has been making a nuisance of itself, shaddowing the fleet, and documenting their activities. They also get in the way when they can, to stop the killing of whales, and try to blockade the harpoon boats when they try to transfer dead whales to their factory ship for processing.
Naturally the japanese whalers arent keen on this, and yesterday I read a blog post from the ship detailing an amazing battle between the sea shepherd and three whaling ships, here’s an excerpt:
“…A Fin whale was spotted at 1211 Hours. The Steve Irwin launched two fast inflatable boats to head off any attempt to harpoon the whale. The helicopter was launched to film the blocking action.
All three harpoon vessels, the Yushin Maru #1, Yushin Maru #2 and Yushin Maru #3 attacked the Steve Irwin in dangerous passes to foul the Steve Irwin’s propeller.
At 1220 the Yushin Maru #1 was a quarter mile away on the port side and heading directly towards the Steve Irwin. A 2nd harpoon vessel the Yushin Maru #2 was moving in a full speed from the Starboard side. The Yushin Maru # 3 approached rapidly from the stern.
At 1230, the Nisshin Maru aimed the Long Range Acoustical Device (LRAD) [a ‘non lethal’ weapon developed for the military] at helicopter pilot Chris Aultman of California and Animal Planet cameraman Ashley Dunn of Tasmania.
“At first it was just a loud noise,” said Aultman, “then they turned up the volume and we could feel it in our legs and chest.”
Aultman retreated out of range of the device but was shocked they used it.
“It was extremely irresponsible for the whalers to aim that devise at the helicopter,” said Captain Paul Watson. “They were doing nothing but filming and presented absolutely no threat to the ships. They demonstrated absolutely no regard for human life.”
At this point the harpoon vessels turned on their LRAD and aimed it at the small boats and the Steve Irwin.
This sonic attack was followed by the Nisshin Maru turning into the Steve Irwin and attempting to actually ram the Sea Shepherd vessel at full speed.
Captain Paul Watson ordered the small boats to act like fighter planes in a dog fight. “You’ve got to keep those hunter killer boats off our bow. If they cripple us down here we will be helpless,” he said.
The small boats retaliated by threatening to foul the props of the harpoon vessel.
Steve Roest of the United Kingdom was injured when he became disoriented, dizzy and was knocked down cutting open his head. Ship’s doctor David Miller from Perth sutured the wound with five stitches. Captain Paul Watson received rope burns when he fired a speed line in front of the Yushin Maru #1 to force them to retreat from an attempt to cross the bow with a fouling line.
The whalers jammed the Steve Irwin’s radios and navigational instruments and kept a steady bombardment of the Sea Shepherd crew with the LRAD’s. Captain Watson spent four hours undertaking zigzag and circular maneuvers to avoid the prop fouling.
“The attacks by the three ships became so aggressive we had to fire flares and speed lines over their head to force them to back off,” said Watson.
The small boats also retaliated with rotten butter bombs. The Steve Irwin retrieved both boats and the helicopter by going in tight circles with the three harpoon vessels circling on the outside blasting the crew with LRAD’s and towing fouling lines.
“It was very worrying for us,” said Steve Irwin 1st Officer Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden. “Our helicopter was almost out of fuel and the whalers were forcing us to keep avoiding them making it difficult for the helicopter to land.”
At 1700 Hours, the harpoon boats backed off and the Steve Irwin resumed the pursuit of the Nisshin Maru. The whaling fleet is once more running before the Steve Irwin heading due South deep into the Ross Sea….”
You can keep up with the increasingly dangerous activities of the Steve Irwin at the Sea Shepherd blog.
On another note, also to do with high seas derring do, an interesting article by Johann Hari looks at the situation facing the Somali pirates who have been in the news so much recently.
What has not been mentioned in the news has been the apparent dumping of nuclear waste in the Somali waters, and the undeclared pirate fishing also in Somali waters.
According to Al Jazeera: Nick Nuttall, a UNEP spokesman, said: “Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting in the early 1990s, and continuing through the civil war there,” he said.
“European companies found it to be very cheap to get rid of the waste, costing as little as $2.50 a tonne, where waste disposal costs in Europe are something like $1000 a tonne.
“And the waste is many different kinds. There is uranium radioactive waste. There is lead, and heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes – you name it.”
The pirates we see and hear about on the news belong to a larger group of sea farers who style themselves as Somalia’s unofficial coast guard. Clearly many of them are just gangsters on the make, but the bigger picture is an interesting context for their behaviour, and reflects less well on the west which has recently sent gun boats in to protect precious oil cargos.
The same article also gives an interesting reminder that at one time pirates established their own little democratic societies by setting up as pirates, rather than subjecting themselves to the brutal dictatorship of British sea captains.