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Archive for the ‘Ethics and nature’ Category

MICROCOSM

The case for saving one small island and its inhabitants: marine, terrestrial and aerial, even human. Keeping their lives enjoyable and peaceful. And for extending what works here to help a world which is sorely in need of ideas.

We will aspire to be a centre for ecological values, as the city of Florence was a world centre of the arts in the Renaissance, even with its small population of 25,000.

Brac Quarry … rock for export off our island?

NO BRAC ROCK

FOR YOUR GT DOCK

Don’t get caught, new government, between a rock and a hard place. Some people here on the Brac have called for an Independent commission on the winding down of the aggregate industry, insofar as the export of crushed rock off the island is concerned. Such a commission would conduct confidential, private interviews with each resident family, with terms of reference calling for its report to be made public upon completion

It needs to stop – the rapacious blasting of our foundation limestone for shipment to Grand Cayman, where it is being used for further degradation of that fair isle. One island sells its birthright so the other can create an unholy mess, leading to the destruction of two islands at once. On their island arises beachfront sprawl with no relation to our heritage; on our small island the rock is gobbled up, robbing us not only of our forests and all its denizens but of the very limestone on which we’ve managed to thrive. “And upon this rock” the Bible states, but where’s the rock? Of many problems in the country this is the single existential problem. It is the single blasphemy being carried out, in the fashion of Nauru in the South Pacific – an unlivable place where sustenance cannot be raised.

“Our goal is a quiet, natural place to live and work and raise our families, surrounded by and respectful of nature as of each other”

Anthropomorphism, or

How to get over that selfish, man-centered view of life.
Please take a moment to be a tree. Stop thinking like a man or a woman or a young person will you? Just for a moment:

A tree is not a “thing” to saw for lumber
Nor just put there for man to view in awe
A fish is not just edible name or number
Let it swim so no bone ‘jooks’ our craw

A slime mold –not just there for me to study
And mark for motion with a piece of chalk
Just as much as you it is my buddy
All of us together on our rock

Each is Life within the 3-D web
Of which we’re part with rock and air and bone
Humboldt knew a bit – a cause célèbre
For every bit we know there’s more unknown

Didn’t like that? For another take on the same subject (human pride) listen to this conversation among some forest trees:

Tree #1 “Just take your photo and move on, lady — the path is getting hard as concrete. I’m not getting any water on your side!”
Tree #2 “ Ahh, it only hurts a little: “Joe loves Sally” carved into my bark. I hope I don’t catch an infection.”
Tree #3 “Oh-oh, here comes a “human” in a hard hat, driving a huge yellow machine.”
Tree #4 “Humans? I’ve heard you mention them but surely there are none here, inside our forest deep.”
Tree #3 “Think again. I’m glad you enjoyed your seclusion, but they are breeding like rats and chewing up everything in sight.”

[Trees in the forest, speaking in a chorus]

“Hug each other but let us be

please don’t even think to hug a tree”

(Further reading: The Hidden Life of Trees by Wohllenben.)

Our own Prolongéd Armageddon

Sometimes in the night I wake and ponder
Could we keep the best and lose the worst
Can humanity improve itself I wonder
Or are we by our own delusions cursed

What can I contribute t’wards recovery
Or slow the onrush of the great decline
Fewer babies born— though no less loving
Or lemming-like we’ll drown ‘en masse’ in brine

We’re only just discov’ring whence we came
By land bridge then to kill off Mammoths (Wooly)
We’ve since appended “sapiens” to our name
While killing without understanding fully

We’ve devised the gears of mass extinction
(Are we not part of this great biosphere?)
Who’ll be here to say the benediction
When slowly, racked with pain, we disappear

Written in the belief that earth has entered, by man’s hand,
the “feedback loop” of the sixth mass extinction, this one by CO2. This is
the tipping point – the point at which global melting and ocean acidification will worsen even if we stop every mile we’re driving, and all else.

Yet there is hope

Is there hope for Cayman Brac? Yes:

  1. Government just opened two closed meetings – the Central Planning Authority for the big island of Grand Cayman, and the Development Control Board for the “sister islands” of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman
  2. A nature group continues to set aside land in perpetuity, for the forests and denizens of forests, like ourselves, against destruction and artificiality. Another ten acres was just protected on the Brac
  3. Government itself has joined this campaign
  4. If we study the consequences of unlimited growth we will preserve a portion of what should be preserved, before we’re lost in a brave new world of pollution and artificiality

We need population targets, similar to inflation targets and other policy targets held by governments around the world. In the Caymans we need to determine if we were not “already there” when we numbered 50,000.

We must re-double our efforts. We will never give up. We will preserve and enhance the ability to work together in a happier, simpler world, respecting all and choosing lighter modes of living. Living lightly on the earth, it has been called.

Local Question: What are we going to do with the gaping holes, once quarrying for export is stopped? Can we come up with a fix on our own?

World question: What can the world do for gaping holes called Gobi and Sahara, and others.

On the shores of Libya and in so many other places stand displaced humans in the millions. In the ruined places of the earth, we just happen to need millions to work, planting trees in the desert. Can’t we get these two together?

The Sahara Desert now stretches coast to coast. It is not the more compact oval that was bordered in green on the wall maps of this author’s youth. And our Brac quarries …. What do you say – no connection? What if “re-wilding” were brought to bear both locally and on a global scale? There, the starving millions could live in hundreds of NEW VILLAGES and be paid a wage plus education and housing to plant Acacia and other tree species (mix them up please) to re-green this area, mile by mile. (China is currently building 40 “new traditional villages” for tourism. These things can be done.) We can get a little practice here on our island, which so far has only been partly blasted into smithereens. Take the same money now spent on this and that and pay for traditional forest planting:
1) stab a hole in the earth; 2) insert a sapling; 3) stamp down the slit; 4) give it an initial dose of water; 5) move on to the next site (pre-marked and not in line – a forest isn’t a line of trees.)

Re-wilding is what it’s called. It is a ray of hope for the Earth, even at this late stage. The feedback loop can be reversed!

Do it for its own sake, not just to save our skins:

Evidence piles up that our inner beings are made calmer and more rational by the experience of nature. Yoga, hiking, meditation and other healthful practices, even burial… are best performed not only beside natural settings but in nature itself, where birds, bees, plants and trees interact and where we become one with this ageless process.

Check out the photos below. God bless us all.

How to celebrate NEXT EARTH DAY — Suggested Inactivities

It’s more fun, living lightly on the earth.

All of the best things to do are waiting for us — all we have to do is do them.

They don’t cost much — most are free. Just take a walk from your house or apartment … or take a bike ride. Walk for your groceries; walk to your church; walk to your bar, and walk home again — much safer for everyone!

The best things won’t “do it” for us; we have to do them ourselves.  It’s the difference between watching baseball on television, compared to playing a pick-up game with friends. What does it take — a ball, a bat, a little space, and someone to play with. Which one do you lack? Maybe the last-named. Well, baseball definitely works best as a team sport. Batting flies into an empty lot isn’t very rewarding, and I could never afford more than one ball anyway, so it’s really better to have someone to catch those fly balls and throw them back to you. (Oh, in passing — if you need an empty lot, come to my little island. They are everywhere. A bad habit is buying a bit of forest, bulldozing it, and waiting for it to sell. Like, for a hundred years. Apparently it’s legal, or semi-legal. Trees don’t vote, do they?)

But tree-huggers do:

genuine tree-hugging voter

Earth Day (April 22nd)

The best way we can honor Mother Earth is by doing her no harm. We can admire her in many ways without using any harmful technology in doing so. (Someone drove a 4WD vehicle along a turtle beach recently — not a good example of living lightly on the Earth.) We can walk the beach, admiring the way it is kissed by the early morning sun. We are honoring earth, sky, sun and sea all at that time, as in this shot of Hermann Beach on our little island, taken while on turtle patrol to find and protect turtle nests.

Hermann Beach, south side, Cayman Brac

But to continue. What about motive power? Have you heard of “shanks’ mare”? If you have, you’re pretty old. Or you’ve been talking to some pretty old people (a nice thing to do). We don’t put out one horsepower like that mare but each of us contains a one-sixth horsepower engine. No, that’s wrong. Each of us IS a one-sixth horsepower engine. That’s the engine that powers your bicycle (hope you don’t have an infernal motor on yours), your cross-country skis, your paddle-board, perhaps your wheelchair but if not, your engine powers your jogging and running. Most universal of all, your one-sixth horsepower propels your walking o’er hill and dale. Can you walk? How fast? How far? Be proud of your walking. If you want to walk your country from end to end, I recommend Cayman Brac.

Use any of these modes and you’ll be less likely to do the earth actual HARM, and on Earth Day we must pledge, first and foremost, to DO NO HARM as Hippocrates stipulated in another context. Driving your ugly turbocharged SUV to three or four beaches to pick up sea-borne litter and add it to the ugly landfill — that is the WRONG thing to do on Earth Day. Doing nothing is better. Just sleep in.

Somehow we always feel impelled to DO SOMETHING when we’re feeling powerless against the forces of ruination of our one and only planet. But sometimes DOING NOTHING is the better course. It is difficult to do nothing, but sometimes that would be the wisest thing. Sling your hammock and just sack out.

Litter has consequences but is primarily an aesthetic problem, as well as an indicator that we are still wasting the earth’s resources instead of reducing our use, re-using our utensils, or recycling them. (A calabash was a fine container and didn’t need to be manufactured. Can you find a calabash? Make a net for it, sling it over your shoulder and when people ask where did you find that thing, tell them you flew to Miami and bought it at Target. No, don’t do that.)

A problem that is much more than aesthetic is the load of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Cleaning a beach does nothing for that. The load of carbon dioxide is killing us. How can we help Earth reduce the load of carbon dioxide we have plumed skyward over the millennia, by burning the Earth’s trees and fields, and by burning the coal, oil and gas made from plants and creatures over the eons? We can beg the government to do this … do that … stop big countries from choking us to death, but what about us, the small countries? We could lead the way.

When we appeared on the planet it must have seemed very big. Limitless.  Now it seems very small. Well, put nine billion people on it and it may well feel a bit small. 9,000,000,000 creatures self-dubbed Homo sapiens. Considering what we’ve done to Mother Earth — what we CONTINUE TO DO AT AN EVER FASTER RATE — we could call ourselves Homo rapiens.

The Good Book says “the times of this ignorance God winked at” but now we know. We know, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. The same book urges us to be good stewards of our inheritance.

If you really feel you need to do something, try to save a tree. A woods. A forest. A jungle. If you’re in a totally screwed up country, perhaps you can plant a tree where one once stood. A woods. A forest. A jungle.

Time for a poem? A hard poem or a soft one? OK, I’ll give you the nice one first, the hard one second:

The candlewood song (Wild trees of Cayman Brac)

Ironwood, Fiddlewood, Smokewood, Shakehand
Broadleaf, Calabash, Snakewood, Silver Thatch
Dogwood, Headache Bush, Buttonwood, Bull Hoof
Coconut, Tamarind, Plopnut, Mango

Pompera, Red Birch, Bitter Plum, Candlewood,
 Wild
Cocoplum, Break Bone, Mastic, Plum
Sea Grape, Strawberry, Balsam, Spanish Elm
Boxwood, Yellow Sanders, Sweetwood, Cedar

Whitewood, Wild Tama-rind, Pepper Cinnamon
Bastard Mahogany, Jeremiah Bush
Bastard Strawberry, Poincianna, Royal Palm
Cherry, Wild Cinnamon, Silk Cotton Tree

Cabbage Tree, Fustic, Logwood, Ginep
Wild Fig, Wild Ginep, Wild Sapodilla
Plumeria, Manchineel, Naseberry, Wash Wood

These are the trees that sustained us of old
These are the trees that nourish our souls
They cooled us, calmed us, cured our ills
The great wild forest can do so still

c. jwp 2012

Another poem (Here’s the hard one)

Tree story

The world is born it cools down
Plants arise — trees the crown
Forests rampant and profound

Creatures crawl onto the strand
One a toolmaker called Man
Tools to fell trees on command

Trees for timber fuel and space
And fossil fuels he burns apace
And aptly names it human race

Cuts the trees erodes the land
The forest dies by man the damned
Who then dies too by his own hand

PS

Find some woodland sky and strand
Where woods are lovely deep and grand
Save all there is of still-green land

December 2005
c. jwp

Oh Lord, what have we done. Well, for example: Picture nine billion self-centred bipeds who take every invention to its logical worst use: cars (SUV’s to go to the mall); air conditioning (to leave “on”, engine idling, while doing the afore-referenced); television (how many channels? And what’s “on” at this moment?); information systems (how many town-sized facilities just to store all this stuff?) ships (clogged sea-lanes carrying toy bunnies?); advanced agriculture (so we stuff ourselves with sugar?); advanced fishing (to feed pets? pets?? …  thereby reducing wild fish stocks to 10% of their former numbers?) aircraft (up and down every 30 seconds at many ports, so some bozo can touch foot on each of the 200 countries? Wow, what an accomplishment.); armies? One country has 2 million soldiers. All of them must be fed, transported, given war games to play, given fuel to burn, the better to burn whole cities and countries in wars. Someone says we should ban outdoor burning, or regulate is strictly — someone else says we should ban wars. Hey, let’s do both! Billionaires building skyscrapers and arrogating power to themselves, co-opting whole governments? Anything to get a fifteen percent return, legally or otherwise, ethically or otherwise. Show me the politicians who won’t be co-opted. Show me the people who won’t vote for a strongman and thereby “Escape From Freedom” as the great Eric Fromm described for us to read and heed.

We’re using the Earth’s resources as if there’s no end in sight.

There is.

SIDEBAR — The Life of the Brainwashed — that’s you and that’s me

Here in brief is the story of the nice hotel, the nearby theme park, and the superb, nearby nature park:

THE THEME PARK (RIDES)THE NATURAL AREA PARK

COST $80 and up FREE for pedestrians, $2 for cars
TYPE OF ATTRACTION Noisy rides, part zoo, many people, mostly young, good restaurants, mini-RR Boardwalks through native jungle, birds, crocodiles in the wild, viewing stations, benches, canoe rental for river, interpretive stations
PUBLICITY Heavily advertised Not advertised
HOTEL TRAFFIC 30% of all guests visit this one 1% of all guests visit this one (Hmm. )

LET ME GIVE A LITTLE FREE PUBLICITY TO LETTUCE LAKE NATURE PARK:

Wildlife abounds in Lettuce Lake Park. (The pad-like weed growing in the slow part of the river looks like lettuce – it is not.) I saw my first Black-bellied Tree Duck here — a “lifer” for a longtime bird-watcher (a very big deal for me).  This beautiful parkland is amazing. Boardwalks are extensive and well maintained. Made by God, protected by Man.  A movie like Avatar could be shot here. You are in the movie. Kayaks and canoe rentals are very reasonable.

So … why is the nature park not thronged with people, like the rides in the theme park? Aha … highly-skilled people work for the hedge fund that owns this “attraction” (and many others). In contrast the natural area is owned and run by municipal “Parks and Rec” which does a great job but doesn’t advertise. (If they did, Republicans would say it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money and steals visitors from private enterprise, that holy phrase from their daily mantra.)  The theme park offers corporate “deals” with the hotel but the hotel doesn’t say a word about the nature park, which is actually closer to the hotel. In truth, the hotel staff scarcely even know about it. Plus, what kind of “deal” could be struck with a park that’s free of charge?

BUT if a simple deal was made with the theme park people, they might advertise the nature experience, offer to train tour guides, raise the price a bit, make a profit and educate throngs of young people and adults about our shared natural heritage — whence we came. Do I sound like a Republican? Well, I have nothing against private enterprise, just so it’s properly regulated and pays its share of tax to keep things like Lettuce Lake Park safe from their grasping “development” hands forever. (Why is destruction oft-called development?)

Or maybe we’re all tools of the theme parks now. Everybody wants a ride called the Excelerator* but few people want to see a Water Moccasin except on a TV nature show (usually a sensationalized show).

*  Not the name of any existing ride as far as I know. But it’s cute, isn’t it?

IN CLOSING

“ENERGY NEUTRAL” is a scam. It always has been. ‘Way back in the ’70s a house was designed that would provide all its own energy and all its own food without recourse to the world outside. There was a catch: You needed several million dollars to build this home. It was built anyway, using vast resources. Then there came a string of breakdowns and maintenance problems. It’s the same today — in order to build an “energy neutral” house or hotel you have to use huge resources, rare earths, and produce excess energy you hope someone will buy, just so you can say you’re energy neutral. Whoop-de-do. Do the math — compare it with the “do nothing” proposition: the forest remains, along with the shrubs and vegetation grading down to the beautiful natural beach where turtles come to nest in the deep of night, following their ancient, mysterious, watery path.

Never mind “renewable energy”; let’s aim for LESS ENERGY

We don’t need more income, we need less expenditure. Then we’ll be equally well off, right? Money in the bank because we won’t need as much to live on. This country has so much going for it — balmy breezes, verdant views, sandy beaches here and there, ironshore and cliffs elsewhere, huge sea and skyscapes, and most of all, native forests such as were seen by Columbus when he sailed past. What else IS there? Oh yes — people who want to protect these gifts. People who will fight to protect these gifts.

On turtle patrol, south side 6 AM

Caymanians and residents, please elect people who will protect our shores and our trees. Press them to open up the back rooms where deals are made in secret. Make it easy for those of us who live here to discover who is buying up our land. And governments (elected and staff) step up to the democratic plate, not just once every four years. Seek our views, listen to all, not only the noisiest. Listen to your own experts. Think with the brains God gave you as Edmund Burke counseled you to do. And govern.

In the meantime, let us all lead a quiet life. Keep those breezes clean and breathe deeply of them.

North Nineteen West Seventy-Nine

I face the sea beyond First Cay
And contemplate my life
How many times it turned on dimes
But then I met my wife

With two good heads we found our bread
And never suffered dearth
Instead found Pollard Cave to save
A ray of hope for Earth

Dry and warm in time of storm
A higher cave awaits
Space for friends to gather round
Until the storm abates

Another place is fixed in space
A hanging valley hidden
I’ll explore its ancient floor
A geologic midden

Then finally trek to our high deck
The place we built together
Equipped with bright blue bench to rest
Above the sultry weather

Blue armrests (oars repossessed)
To set down stein or cuppa
Our eyrie over tops of trees
And table for our supper

On cheese and wine and peace we dine
And read till dark of night
Reveals a zodiacal sign
Crossed by a meteorite

We’ve smelled the breeze of seven seas
So if you check forth-hence
You’ll see us walk this selfsame rock
Then mount this selfsame bench

Jwp
May 18, 2015 Cayman Brac

[if you like this and the other original poems, join or donate to the National Trust for the Cayman Islands. Go to their website. Pay them, not me. But note — they have no say in this blogsite. It is my own. Thanks. Be well.]

And the times of this ignorance God winked at

Plant people, we are losing our rarest plants to theft.

Add this to loss of habitat, spread of alien species and all the other challenges, and it’s clear that we need to work harder to protect our precious natural heritage. Here are some hints: show our rare plants only to people you trust implicitly, and tell them why they must not inform others. There are thieves in our midst!

And thieves who visit – international plant thieves. (Check specific wild plants on the internet and you’ll see they are stolen, cultivated, and offered as cures for everything from toe fungus to loneliness – just as “snake oil” was peddled in the 19th century, in a previous venal era, almost as bad as today.)

“Visiting scientists” are not genuine unless they have certificates from the Department of Environment. You can accept recommendations from DOE or from the National Trust on Grand Cayman, or through our own Chairman if he has been advised of an official visitor. (Visiting scientists have to go through screening, and make their findings available.) Be particularly wary of orchid fanciers – some of them so tempted by fame or fortune they lose all perspective, all respect for the forest. They will break our laws with no compunction.

There’s a long history here of stealing because it wasn’t thought of as theft – it was nature’s bounty. People used to fill car trunks and truck backs with wild orchids! Now, it must be stopped — with a checkerboard of “development roads” the bush is all too accessible.

There are international thieves and there are common thieves. Banana orchids were recently stolen right out of West End Community Park, for sale to the public on Cayman Brac. They were ripped from the trees by the roots, right on the nature trail. But it’s the less obvious thieves who do more damage – let it not be you or me.

ANSWER ME THIS

Who does more harm – one professional thief taking 100 of our Brac endemics for horticultural sale in Europe, America or Asia?

Or 100 of our plant fanciers right here in the Cayman Islands, each taking one?

It’s a toss-up, isn’t it.

If the professional thief can be called a plant hater, and the amateur thief a plant lover, who does more harm? They are equally harmful. People are loving our plants to death.

LOST AND NOT FOUND – PLANTS ON CAYMAN BRAC

Encyclia kingsii*

Epiphyllum phyllanthus var. plattsii

Ipomoea hederifolia*

Myrmecophila thomsoniana var. minor

Peperomia pseudopereskiifolia*

Pharus glaber?*

Terminalia eriostachya?*

* The asterisk refers to plants that were ripped out of the ground by the roots, so that not one portion is left. This is not a cutting, this is whole plant removed from its place in nature. Two of these (with question marks) had not yet been positively identified – now never will be. Three are plants that this author can no longer find anywhere on the Brac. Since we are losing natural areas every day to so-called “development” (often simply destruction) they may never be found here again.

Probably fewer than 10% of stolen plants survive the act of transplanting. We need new rules:

  1. Do not remove any plants from the wild. Once “recommended” to preserve rare species, it is now considered phony – a potted plant is a mockery of the plant in the wild. We can only take pride in saving a rare plant in situ, in the habitat in which it managed to evolve in the mists of time;
  2. Do not buy native plants. (Check that imported ones are not invasive.)
  3. Do not accept native plants as gifts – someone may be trying to ingratiate himself/herself, and this method is unethical if it involves the wild.

It’s a dangerous world out there, even here. One can no longer point out the specific location of rarities – the very thing that our happy group of  “botanizers” love to do. If anyone presses you for exact locations or for GPS readings, do not give them out. Just say “on the bluff” or “I forget” unless you trust that person implicitly by personal knowledge or by their DOE-issued papers.

Instead, perhaps you could switch to thatch work. That’s sustainable. You can take a few tops, do some thatch work, you can buy and sell thatch work and even give and accept it as a gift – work from your own hands, or the hands of friends. There are hundreds of harmless ways to entertain ourselves – let’s not do it on the backs of those innocents who came before us.

Two of the plants listed above are categorized as Endangered.  Three are Critically Endangered.  They are that close to extinction.

Extinction is forever.

Epiphyllum phyllanthus var. plattsii

Ripped off to die

Ipomoea hederifolia (fuzzy photo; plant has since “been disappeared”)

Myrmecophila thomsoniana var. minor (safe in the deep bush)

Peperomia pseudopereskiifolia

- finis -

YES TO CRUISE SHIPS, YES TO SUNDAYS BUT NO TO MEGA SHIPS (Minister Tyto)

[Dream news release]
THE DAILY CONCH SHELL
yo’ correspondent November 5, 2015

In a statement today Cayman’s Minister of Thinking, the Hon. Barney Tyto, noted that well over 90 % of the cruise ships presently plying the waves are NOT mega-sized. And they are all welcome to visit the Cayman Islands.

“All cruise ships ranging in size up to “Panamax” are welcome,” said Mr. Tyto, “including on Sundays.” [Panamax is the term used for the largest ships that can pass through the Panama Canal, as presently configured. Ed.]

Referring to Sunday cruise ship arrivals, the minister said about 14% more revenue would derive from this new “freedom” as he called it. “This will accrue to our country without any dredging or capital works of any kind”. He pledged to devote half of the new revenue to provide decent sidewalks from downtown along the strip to Seven Mile Beach, until they are paid for.

The minister said the gigantic new cruise ships, holding as many as 6000 passengers, “are just not suitable for our nice little islands. The same applies to the largest class of jetliners — we won’t extend our runways for them.We are three small islands and cannot ensure a happy experience for such large numbers of people.”

To loud applause from onlookers Minister Tyto explained “We need to retain our reputation as a safe, orderly and clean country for residents and visitors alike. We have delicate reefs to protect — that’s why people come here. They see a clean harbor from their tender vessels, and many cruise guests swim, snorkel and dive within sight of their own cruise ship. Quite a few return to our shores the next year, often for a longer stay.”

The announcement took place on the waterfront. Adjacent churches displayed banners saying “Cruise Visitors Welcome To Worship Here”.

November 2015 [fiction, unfortunately]

DAILY LIFE: WHAT SHOULD WE DO NOW?

Dear fellow Caymanians and residents. Let us press our government to take these steps to reduce carbon emissions from our small but successful country, and
THEREBY LET US IMPROVE OUR DAILY LIVES

Yellow-crowned Night Heron on patrol

BURNING          An outright ban on all outdoor fires.
There are no downsides to this proposal. It would get us out of the slash-and-burn mode of agriculture. It would force us to develop organized mulching, a big benefit in our soil-deprived islands. It would clean up the air we burn. This move alone would contribute significantly to bringing us towards 1990 levels of CO2 emissions.

A procedure for temporary licenses to burn could be worked out. But basically, nobody needs to burn.

Q: What is the carbon reduction that would be delivered by an outright ban on burning? It would definitely improve the air we breathe. Isn’t that important enough?

CYCLING-FRIENDLY/ PEDESTRIAN-FRIENDLY ISLANDS WITHOUT CLEARING ANY MORE TREES, pathways can be created especially for walking and biking. Surely walking is a basic human right far ahead of the “right” to drive a car. Less driving could take us well back towards 1990 levels of emissions. One easy method would be to create pedestrian malls, with auto traffic banned or restricted to certain hours. All people living within a 3 mile radius of their place of work should be walking or cycling to work, or ride-sharing. Other creative modes might include park-and-walk depots (inexpensive car parking — walk from there to work).

Q: What would be the carbon reduction if even 5% fewer trips were accomplished without automobiles, or by pooling or using easy bus systems, or by living close to work?

DARK SKY NIGHTS Basically, streets should be dark but pedestrians and cyclists should be lit up. You’d get electricity savings,improved star-gazing, perhaps improved romance too. This goes beyond shielded lighting (which we don’t seem to have anyway) — it goes towards no lighting. Lighting is a scam anyway — light up the night and we’ll have less crime? WRONG

Q: What would be the savings in pollution if the power company lit up 10% fewer streetlights than they do now? Or should we go for 20% or 50% (every second light pole) and make the night skies feel cooler, gentler and more like olden times, right away? What about lights out at midnight, resuming at 4 AM? Couldn’t you handle it?

POPULATION CONTROL Let’s take the Cayman Islands to a whole previous level. How about working our way back to the population numbers of 1990? No true abatement of pollution will happen on this globe unless the population bomb is de-fused. It’s easier to do it here than in other places, because it would not require any imposition of one-child or other severe policies. It would only require setting targets, obviating the need for new housing developments. Organizations would have to train people in effective business methods – more work from fewer people. Productivity! Otherwise we are just running around the squirrel cage of unrelenting population growth. Let’s work on our Gross Happiness Index, not our Gross Domestic Product.

Q: Someone says we need 75,000 people, up from 55,000. Ridiculous. What is the saving if we do NOT do this? What is the saving if we cut back (gradually) to the 1990 population figure for the Cayman Islands? Who wants to pave the whole island anyway?

NATURAL FORESTS The best contribution to a lower carbon footprint is to stop cutting our trees and forests — to dedicate MOST of our three islands to natural forest, “the ultimate adaptive system”, which is the foundation of everything else we have — life itself. PERMANENT PROTECTION of existing forest and bush is the best policy, but another is “re-wilding” — allowing nature to take over some of the horrid scars on our landscape such as abandoned quarries.

Q: What is the oxygen benefit of reverting to the 1990 percentages of natural cover, for the three islands?

These are just a few practical things we can put forward as commitments now. They are steps to a better life and a contribution – especially by example – towards reigning in climate change which threatens low, island nations most of all.

Some of these actions are easy. An outright ban on burning would require one piece of legislation (someone says it’s on the books now) together with a period of education in less harmful methods of doing whatever burning supposedly “accomplishes” for us. It would require a vigorous enforcement regime, involving fire and police departments — perhaps “spotters” too. The people will be drawn along so that, in the end, little enforcement will be necessary. Who would wish to flout a wise law, one that brings only benefits? This is the way smoking was curbed, this is the way seat belts got worn, and this is the way nesting turtles came to be admired instead of ravaged while doing what they’ve been doing for a million years.

All of the above steps are helpful; all are needed to preserve health, welfare, continuity, peace and good order … perhaps our continued existence, in our verdant isles.

JWP June 28, 2015

PS In November and December 2015 all the world’s governments will meet in Paris and bring their commitments to reducing the heavy load we have placed on the carrying capacity of the earth and its atmosphere. China and the USA and about 40 countries have stepped up to the plate early. Pope Francis issued an encyclical on the topic. We know that these are worthy steps, that “development” for us can mean things like education, health and social order, not just giant, smoking machines digging holes, laying concrete, glass and asphalt and ruining our land, sea and air.

The United Kingdom will be there. We have time to assist it by formulating and putting forward our own, Caymanian commitments to put into effect here and now.The globe is big, but we need these changes anyway, for ourselves. Look at the photos, and choose what kind of future we will have.

SHALL WE GATHER FOR THE SEED BANK?

My own nature ethic

On my island, I and some friends possess a list of the all the native plants, ranked in order of endangerment. Some are unique to our island. We know where to find virtually all the plants. Shall we assist the Millennium Seed Bank, which wants them to deep freeze the seeds? Shall we do the following to accomplish this:

  1. find each species and get the coordinates of a specimen on our GPS device?
  2. make a table of the month of flowering, fruiting and ripening for each?
  3. disseminate the table to others (experts, fellow native plant enthusiasts) so we can hit the trail to gather the seeds for banking?

Night-blooming flower of Epiphyllum phyllanthus platsii

The whole thing gives me pause. I keep asking myself ethical questions: Can we trust ourselves not to abuse this knowledge? Should we trample paths to these hidden jewels? Will the international group sell some of the seeds to plant fanciers, seed and chemical companies, now or in the future? As it happens, it’s a dangerous field of activity. Dupont has just caught thieves stealing trade secrets on behalf of a foreign power (guess which one).

With a click we can get the coordinates, with another we can send them to someone — proudly perhaps, or “in the interests of science”. But it’s just too easy these days for the information to fall into the wrong hands.

Can our own nature organization be trusted not to mess about with the seeds, or the native bush and habitat where the source plants are found? They have proposed doing just that on several occasions! Some of the members, people I respect, have proposed artificial enclosures, breeding of animals, trading plants from island to island, seeding out rare plants, even ripping them out from the sites where they evolved to plant in other places, even in protected natural areas. A few members have already done so.

Finally, can I trust myself to do no harm? “Do no harm” is a high principle and may be violated by mindless tromping about/ Instead, I should be working tirelessly to protect these natural areas. I should educate and lobby to leave the plants alone, to follow their ancient mandate. We need to “let it be”, and to leave our wildlife wild.

My own nature ethic. I must think it out, write it out, live by it and try to promote it. So now, I’m thinking as I write.

Verbesina caymanensis

Where are we in human history?

1. When I was a boy the world was mostly ocean, jungle, forest, roaring rivers, streams, lakes, frozen tundra, glacier, natural savannah and desert. (Whether or not the savannah and desert came before early man is not completely understood.) The human population was 2 billion, then 3 billion. (That’s a lot.) One hundred years before that, in the New World, I might have been an enthusiastic tree cutter. Now it is 7 billion. We have a plague of humans.

The world is mostly city, town, village, clearing, burned-over area, farm and abandoned farm. The ocean is warmer and has a severe chemical headache, the tundra is visibly thawing and the glaciers are receding at the most rapid rate we have seen or been able to calculate from previous eras. All this, and I’m only 74 years old.

So I am a preservationist of disappearing forest, bush, natural savannah, even desert and definitely, of ocean, stream, river and lake. Some would call me radical.

Who is radical, the one who wishes to preserve nature in all its mystery, diversity and glory? Or the ones who destroy it every day, in almost all our actions. Some love to watch nature on the tube, especially the occasional drama — so don’t we want to keep it?

Why is this important?

On the evidence, I strongly believe that man-driven development is destroying nature, that the search for money and ever-higher GNP through “growth” and “development” all represent a pox on the earth. “Forest management”, is fine if your forest is nothing but a lumber factory, but otherwise represents a brave new world of pretending that we can second-guess nature. Seed banking fits in that brave new world. Man’s hubris can actually destroy us all. It’s destroying us now – how can we not be working at this moment to arrest the decline of the natural world? We install monocultures in place of the incredible diversity of life. (I’m fond of citing Dr. Proctor’s information (Flora of the Cayman Islands): there are 500 species in the Capparis family of trees and plants of which only one produces a product that people consider useful (capers). Yet on our island, with only two members of the family, Capparis supports an annual production of millions of white butterflies, like snow. We love it. What other services does nature provide, that we don’t even know about?

We try to decide, like a communist economy, what the forest needs. We actually think we can compete with nature, which when left alone is the world’s most adaptive machine, and has handled everything thrown at it — from repeated inundation, earthquakes, volcanoes, asteroid collisions, droughts and fires to hurricanes (the least destructive of this list, perhaps).

I believe that the last, best world was pre-Columbian America, north and south, when men were few in number and had to fit in to nature’s immemorial scheme, dating back a billion years. This was the world with a future. That future proceeded in a reasonably orderly fashion until some major steps in man’s “advance” in civilization: the “invention of invention”, of machines, of stable money, of capital, of the nation state, of credit and national debt, of the automobile, of mass production, of television and in general, the invention of mass society. Even the invention of antibiotics, of safe water and sewage systems and other good things have played a part in allowing the human population to take off in a spree of exploiting nature. We now have the morality (immorality) the motive and the means to be totally exploitive of both land and sea. It’s total war against nature.

In this milieu I have dedicated myself to a battle to keep some scrap of the wilderness wild, for evolution to continue to play its slow but inexorable hand, with people fitting in, watching for harmful anomalies such as rare diseases that may creep out of the jungle. (But more likely, out of our chemical dumps, modified granaries and artificial barnyards.) We need to learn to leave nature alone.

“Let it be”, was a famous slogan to encourage us to allow wolves to range the northern forest. The slogan can now be modified to “Let it bee” to preserve a whole class of insects that is apparently being knocked out by chemical companies and yes, by chemists and by farmers large and small.

The threat is not the odd disease in the Amazon jungle, it is the destroyed jungles of Java and Nigeria, the ruined countryside of Haiti, of China, the polluted rivers, all the natural systems devastated by man gone mad, blasted by our fires, machetes and yellow crawling machines, smelters large and small, agri-business, the heedless pursuit of what I want today, never mind what the earth including humanity needs to keep for tomorrow and for all time.

Native plants have only enemies. Can I become their friend?

Consider the forces ranged against plants here on Cayman Brac. They established themselves on a dry limestone island that rose from the sea (several times, actually). Natural forces beat at them: the cauldron of the first days of earth … then storms, high seas, screaming winds, natural fires … and yet they persevered. Some of these agencies actually helped bring our plants to this rock in the northwestern Caribbean. Birds came and plant material floated in, blew in, and sometimes stuck. Some took hold in the dust blown here on the jet stream. Even natural fires played a role. Continents drifted, volcanoes blasted, earthquakes shook but our greenery took hold and held.

Every force, and still they survived.

Now WE came along, very recently but devastatingly. We cleared land for every conceivable purpose — replanting in monocultures for food, vegetable oil, lumber, building, paper, fabrics, even in some countries for rubber. Burning of land to re-plant became simply burning for burning’s sake. Fossil fuel was found beneath the surface and was burned to move the vehicles on the rubber that was grown in the monocultures. The fossil fuels were converted to rubber and chemicals too. All added to the horrible load borne by the earth, land and sea– chemicals, dust, a fished-out sea, ruined ponds, lakes, rivers and streams, acid rain, poisoned rivers, a witches’ brew. The human population now soared out of control — upward, ever upward.

The world was over-exploited by man, perhaps from day one, but the Americas were exploited later, especially from the time of European “contact”. We on our tiny island came later still (1830s) … but we quickly made up for lost time. Ask the crocs or “caimans” that once lived here). Contact has been devastating and now threatens the future of life on earth, ourselves included.

Plants have enemies: illegal miners, legal open-pit miners, plant thieves, palm oil growers, squatters, lumber cutters, slash-and-burners, nice people like do-gooders and bougainvillea planters, horticulturalists, orchid society members, various scientists, backyard gardeners, cross-pollinators and just ordinary proles like me.

Yes, scientists and collectors have added to the pressure on our plant life. Orchid collectors pay poor children to strip the forests. (I saw this first hand; also saw collectors pay kids to collect rare butterflies, in Papua New Guinea.)

We came late to this island but the tools were readily available and we rushed to slash and burn and plant, and lately, to strip our island quite alarmingly and systematically. We went from machetes to dynamite and yellow machines, and graduated to serious for aggregate production for export. Today I studied yet more proposals to “develop” our already most-modified island, out of the three in this small island chain.

Is it too late?

Not here.

Are you a good demographer? Then look around the world and calculate how many young people can reach a place of natural, undisturbed wonder, virtually unchanged from aboriginal times, by merely walking from their own house (tent, apartment or other abode). It can’t happen in New York or any major city, nor in a refugee camp, nor in a slum, nor in a city where you can’t even sneeze without getting into a car to do so. It’s a rarity, being able to explore truly virgin bush.

But it’s still possible for our young people here on Cayman Brac. You can do it too. If you don’t believe me, phone and we’ll walk from your house together, until we arrive in a mysterious place, albeit a little bit scratched from trees and “wiss” (withes, to some). We’ll find a place of total silence, perhaps a place where nobody has ever stood before. A place where you’ll see something surprising – an unknown air plant, a mysterious cave, a long-nosed green anole or a solder crab in a marine snail that you’ve never seen before in spite of all your beach combing. Here on our island, we’re not yet fully blasted, pulverized, bulldozed, paved, compacted, air conditioned, bought, built upon, rolled, road- signed, mortgaged, hedge funded, paid, pensioned and gentrified.

So what shall we do?

Given all this, shall we help scientists and collectors roam in the bush to find rarities, marking their coordinates for all the world, stripping out their seeds for … for what? To add to others’ collections? To sell for experiments? To sell to collectors? “See this now – rare clone of blue and green Blitheringalissiae obscuranteae?” Isn’t this just another assault on the now-rare wild habitats of the world?

No. It must not be so. Millennium Seed Bank? I call it Apocalypse Seed Bank. It is the invention of minds already dead. For every dollar spent on this, we could set aside a square foot of land and keep it wild. We can encourage others to do the same.

I must dedicate myself to saving not the individual species, but too, the habitats in which they evolved. I must encourage my adopted country to set aside great swaths of natural habitat to continue untouched, to “manage” themselves without our stumbling, interfering hands. I do not want to gather wild seeds on our not- yet- completely defoliated land. I’d rather try to save one-half of the total area and keep it natural, forever.

Slow the developers;
Slow the hedge funds;
Slow, even reverse, the growth of our human population;
Same with our cats, dogs, chickens and rats which follow us in train;
Slow the growth of the GDP;
Slow the onset of high walls, of “gated communities”. (Here??)

Keep the place livable so a stable population can thrive in a lovely, green place, with peace and quiet, with respect for each other.

No walls, no rapacious clearing, cutting, burning, quarrying; just good uses of the land for decent human needs while respecting our fellow creatures and plants. Only the benign human pleasures of honest work, hiking, biking, snorkeling and swimming, making love to the sound of the Rainbird and to the tickle of the sea breeze.

I can develop my own, strict protocol

OK, I’ve decided for myself. I will never take a wild plant from its natural habitat. Even if I find one orphaned by a yellow machine I will not plant it in the wild, only in my backyard, and then with regret (since it may die anyway). Further, I will not import seeds, plants or cuttings or plants for decorative uses. Can’t we get along with our beautiful native trees and plants – Broadleaf, Candlewood, almost a thousand native plant and tree species? Look what happened when some ill-informed person brought “Brazilian pepper” here — hazardous to all but spreading uncontrollably. Even importation for vegetable and fruit gardening should be strictly controlled.

Myrmecophila thompsoniana var. minor

My nature ethic: seed collection just doesn’t fit in

The big organization says it won’t condone sending seeds from one island to another (except to the central seed bank of course). But I won’t move a plant even one foot from where I found it. Nature ethic – this is my manifesto.

  1. Rare plants can be studied and admired in place – I don’t want to collect them. I will never compromise the ability of the plant to live its natural life, following its endless, evolutionary path. (By the way, our native orchids used to be harvested here. Perhaps still are. So I’m not just talking theory.)
  2. I will never plant anything in our protected areas, not even from one corner to another, nor even one foot away from its original site;
  3. I will never create smooth trails to rare or to any plants — they simply smooth the way for foreign agents like cats, rats, chickens, dogs and man;
  4. I will never buy, sell, trade or give away wild seeds;
  5. If some entrepreneur wishes to raise and sell small, local seedling trees and plants, this is ok but I can encourage them to subscribe to the values listed here. Mahogany was over-harvested and could be re-planted in pasture and scrubland;
  6. No vehicles should ever enter our protected natural areas, nor should roads intrude;
  7. I will never condone modification of our protected natural areas; the idea of “management” of such areas begs the question: who “managed” them for eons prior to the arrival of man on the scene? (One natural area is said to require $25,000 for management. It needs ZERO dollars unless it needs to be fenced to keep out chickens)
  8. I will work to keep out botanical parks from our island, and other places where gathering wild materials, purchase/sale of growing materials, the planting out of growing materials, the hybridization of plants, and other practices would take place.

Larger islands and countries can make their own decisions. They are less subject to damage than our very small island. But for us, no botanic park please. No zoos, petting zoos, no feeding of wild animals especially iguanas and others that can become inured to humans and their cars. Feeding of waterfowl and other wild creatures ruins their nutrition and I will encourage an outright, enforced ban as is practiced in other jurisdictions. (Zoos are being broken up in Costa Rica, I note with satisfaction.)

As well as dedicating one-quarter of all of our land, shore and inshore area to nature, the areas where we ourselves reside should also be wildlife-friendly: safe for birds, butterflies, iguanas, all the native creatures. Around my house I’ll share “my own territory” including our yard with those birds and wild creatures that can tolerate me, without feeding them on the one hand or threatening them with felines on the other. I will in fact work to keep out the menace of felines and other non-native predators.

In short, some of Cayman Brac, perhaps one quarter, should be reserved for wild nature. The remainder of Cayman Brac should be shared with our natural companions, with respect for their ways. They enhance our lives!

This is my protocol for myself. I guess it’s a bit of a manifesto. Thank you for reading to the end. I’m amazed.

jwp

Epiphyllum phyllanthus plattsii

Like a globe-sized H-bomb, but slower

I want to write about compression. Not compression in an automobile cylinder head (a ratio of perhaps 11 to 1) but much more extreme, 240 to 1. Scientists studying an Andean glacier over many decades have determined its previous rate of growth and its present rate of shrinkage. (They used extinct alpine plant life, newly revealed by melting and known previously from the fossil record.) Their conclusion, supported by other scientists not directly involved in the study, is that growth in the glacier that occurred over a span of 6000 years has been lost in the last 25 years! That’s a ratio of 240 to 1.

What about 10,000,000 to 1? All of us living today are experiencing this rate. We are living in the Anthropocene Era, and we are burning three billion years of stored organic material (mostly decayed plant life) in a mere 300 years. We use the resulting energy to power our cars, trucks, planes, factories … to heat and cool our homes, second homes and offices … to clear and burn our forests for wood products and fuel and to plant in their place edible crops to feed our seven billion mouths (so many people!) … and to feed our pets of course … and to plant flowers that we call pretty, presumably prettier to some people than unspoiled forest.

The biggest proportion of this fuel is not used at all – it’s wasted. We are frenetically consuming all the energy saved by natural forces over billions of years, in mere hundreds of years. A ratio of ten million to one.

And we act surprised to find that this activity has affected our air, sea and land!

We go into denial about it. But the crisis is not in the future, it is now. Hong Kong, to take one example, is a big, beautiful city which is no longer nice and healthy to live in because of air pollution.

Here is the same extreme ratio expressed in a different way. Pretend you come upon a giant tree, a California Redwood that took 1000 years to reach its immense size. But you want to consume it, so you burn it to smoke and ashes in less than an hour! That’s the same compression ratio, the same compression of time. Great, eh?

I’m not finished yet. The smoke and heat from burning that tree cannot disperse from its own “air column” to adjacent air columns, because all the trees are burning, or have burned. Their combustion products remain with us. There’s no clean air to dilute the smoke, heat and the gaseous chemical brew. There’s no place for it to go.

I’m not finished yet. You and I live in the same dirty air column. Think of a dome placed around the burning tree, and think of you and I living inside the same dome. Our tiny dome is called the earth’s atmosphere, and it’s foul. We have befouled it. (Our atmosphere is tiny. In comparison to the size of our earth it is like the skin of an apple compared to the apple.)

Homo sapiens? I don’t think so. Not smart at all to continue doing these things to ourselves.

Any politician, business leader, leader of religion, the military, non-government organizations, education, think tanks, the arts and sciences, supranational institutions, who are not working to stop this compression, this race to annihilation and to reverse it, is not acting responsibly. More personally, such leaders cannot claim to be responsible parents or grandparents of their own children let alone unfortunate children in other parts of the world.

To work on any other matters (except military domination of a dead earth) without simultaneously working on this one, demonstrates a wrong set of priorities.

Take a stand. Get busy. Network. Lobby. Reverse the plague of excessive growth, over-consumption, over-population, over-use of resources, gross violation of our home. Adopt this cause as your own. Our only home is planet earth, our only sustenance its land, sea and air.

Is this our goal?
post_image

I call it urban blight. This was a once a glorious sub-tropical forest with ponds, sloughs and hummocks, pouring oxygen into the atmosphere. Now it’s given over to man – but where is man in the picture? Where are men, women and children? The place is a sterile wasteland, built at great cost in money and resources. It was totally empty when photographed on a recent long weekend. During a weekday it looks the same but with more parked vehicles, especially in the huge parking garage. There is scant provision for getting to work by any mode other than by car.

The photo above is not my home. But it is the urban model we are copying. Is this how we want our earth and our lives to “develop”? It is the path we are on today. Try the photo below instead: this is an unspoiled (but not protected) part of Cayman Brac. This offers a better environment for nature’s creatures to live and breathe and prosper, including ourselves.

cayman_brac

Looking north, Stake Bay Point

LIFE EVER AFTER

All of us are turning golden-orange. Our complexions were black, brown, white and yellow to start with, but sunset over the water is claiming us for its own. The fish fry is winding down. People came on foot from their various dwellings on higher land. I served my ginger beer for Pradeep.

Read the rest of LIFE EVER AFTER »

Living Lightly on the Earth — Basic Principles

Name any topic and you can do research and find volumes of facts about it. Especially on the Internet. Or you can simply reflect and state the basic principle involved. Adopting the principle then allows you to work out the details, or to answer new questions that may arise on the same subject.

Read the rest of Living Lightly on the Earth — Basic Principles »

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