Thursday, December 26, 2013

Annual Report of the Red Mountain Pilgrimage

Well, I’ve survived yet another trip around the sun, and I hope you have, too.  It’s been an interesting year, and a good one.  I’m busy doing the work I was meant to do, and it’s finding an audience that appreciates it, and respects me.  It’s a bit sad that I spent so many years hauling stone blocks up the latest pyramid, but I was always learning, too.  It takes time to make sense of this world.  I never imagined that, at this point in my life, there would still be so many fascinating new things to learn.

I’ve been living in the hermitage for four and a half years now, on a wee budget, exploring the myriad ways of preparing bean soup and oatmeal.  I did suffer a brief relapse of consumer fever, and bought a one-speed bicycle.  My elderly high-tech bike was becoming a persistent headache.  This year, I rode my scooter 1,050 miles (1690 km), which was 50 percent less than the year before.  This burned up 20 gallons (76 l) of gas, the smallest amount since I got my drivers license in 1968.

On a whim, I rented a car to take a much-needed vacation.  I haven’t driven a car since 2009.  The karma of it all immediately gave me a swift boot in the posterior — every campground was jam-packed with people, dogs, skateboards, mountain bikes, and loud music.  Horror! 

On previous trips, I had apparently been lucky to visit during off-peak times.  There had been no crowds, it was easy to find blissful tranquility, and enjoy a quiet campfire with the spirits of the ancestors.  But this time, it was mid-August, the weekend, perfect weather, and everyone had the same idea.  In sadness and amusement, I turned around and took the car back to Hertz, an expensive seven-hour misadventure.  Sigh!

This year, I read and reviewed a number of important books.  I enjoy exploring the work of inspiring minds, and sharing my discoveries with others.  The reviews are posted on my blog, where pilgrims on the path of learning can easily find them via Google searches.  At the beginning of 2013, my blog had 11,000 page views in total.  Today, it’s over 41,000.  This is satisfying.  My devious plan is working!

Social networking has provided a broad gateway into a fascinating realm of stories, opinions, and discussions that the mainstream world never sees, unfortunately.  It pulls back the McNews curtain, revealing many behind the scenes issues.  I now have connections with allies in Belize, Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands, Germany, France, Hungary, Canada, Poland, Australia, Croatia, Sweden, Belgium, Brazil, Indonesia, and America.

The big highlight for the year was that I published my second book, Sustainable or Bust.  It’s a collection of 64 book reviews and 16 rants — a toolbox for seekers who want to learn more about human ecology and genuine sustainability.

After I send this letter, my next project is a months-long marketing process.  Writing is less than half of the job.  The plan is to visit university websites, find their course catalogs, and identify instructors who teach ecology, environmental ethics, or sustainability.  Then, I’ll find their email addresses, and send them a nice note.

I think that a fair number of students would find my work to be interesting, since many of them are starting to grasp the dire state of the ecosystem they’re inheriting, and the perplexing indifference of the elders.  Deep ecology has never been a mainstream subject, and I’m not sure how many professors are interested in it now.  It’s not where the money and prestige are these days.  All I can do is try.  If you have any suggestions for contacts, let me know.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Apocalyptic Planet

Craig Childs is a nature writer and globetrotting adventure hog.  He’s been thinking a lot about apocalypse lately.  It’s hard not to.  The jungle drums are pounding out a growing stream of warnings — attention! — big trouble ahead.

The Christian currents in our culture encourage us to perceive time as being something like a drag strip.  At one end is the starting line (creation), and at the other end is the finish line (judgment day).  We’re speeding closer and closer to the end, which some perceive to be the final Game Over for everything everywhere.  Childs disagrees.  “We are not on a one-way trip to a brown and sandblasted planet.”

He was lucky to survive into adulthood still possessing an unfettered imagination, and he can zoom right over packs of snarling dogmas that disembowel most folks who attempt to think outside the box.  In his book Apocalyptic Planet, he gives readers a helpful primer on eco-catastrophe.  The bottom line is that Earth is constantly changing, and it’s not uncommon for change events to be sudden and catastrophic.

He purports that the big storm on the horizon today is not “The Apocalypse.”  It’s just one more turbulent era in a four billion year story.  Out of the pile of planetary disasters, he selects nine examples, travels to locations that illustrate each one, and then spins stories.  Each tale cuts back and forth between his adventures at the site, and background information from assorted sources.  It’s an apocalypse buffet.

Deserts are a quarter of all land, and many are growing now.  History tells us that they can expand and contract rapidly, taking out societies in the process.  Four out of ten people live in regions prone to drying up.  New Mexico once experienced a drought that lasted 1,000 years.  Beneath the driest regions of the Sahara, pollen samples indicate that the land was once tropical savannah and woodlands.  A few years ago, Atlanta, Georgia (not an arid region) came close to draining its water supply during a long drought.

Glaciers are melting at rate that alarms people who think.  Childs visited the Northern Patagonia Ice Field, where hunks the size of buildings were crashing down off the edge of the dying glacier.  Enormous volumes of melt water are raising the global sea level.  He also visited the Bering Sea, where the old land bridge is now 340 feet (103 m) underwater.  Beringia was once a broad treeless steppe, home to an amazing community of megafauna.  If climate change eliminates all ice, the seas could rise another 120 feet (36 m) or so, and major rivers will run dry from lack of melt water.  About 40 percent of humankind resides near coasts.  Nobody knows how fast the seas will rise, or how much.

The planet has been smacked countless times by asteroids.  Many believe that the dinosaur era was terminated by the Chicxubal impact on the Yucatan Peninsula.  There are many, many objects zooming around in space that could hit us, but Childs recommends that our time would be better spent worrying about catastrophic volcanic eruptions.  There are daily eruptions from 200 active volcanoes.  Extreme eruptions have loaded the atmosphere with dust, blocking out sunlight, leading to winters that lasted for years.  Humankind once had a close call with extinction when Mount Toba erupted 73,000 years ago.

Climate change is likely to affect the movement of the planet’s tectonic plates.  As glaciers melt and dam reservoirs evaporate, there will be less weight on the land below, allowing it to rise.  Tectonic shifts can lead to earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and altered ocean currents and weather patterns.

All civilizations are temporary outbursts of overbreeding and harmful lifestyles.  On a visit to Mayan ruins in Guatemala, Childs discussed their collapse, the result of a combination of factors.  “The issue, ultimately, was carrying capacity.”  Over the years, I’ve often seen people sharing their opinions of the Earth’s carrying capacity for humans.  Estimates usually range between 100 million and 15 billion, as if there is one correct answer.

Actually, the long-term carrying capacity is constantly changing, and these days it’s getting smaller and smaller.  Ocean acidification, chronic overfishing, and other harms have sharply reduced the vitality of marine ecosystems.  Chronic forest mining, soil mining, and industrialization have sharply reduced the vitality of terrestrial ecosystems. 

The fossil energy bubble enabled a huge temporary spike in carrying capacity, but as we move beyond peak, we’ll discover that the long-term carrying capacity is far less than it was 10,000 years ago, when the ecosystem enjoyed excellent health.  Climate change is likely to reduce it further still, as large numbers of plant and animal species go extinct.

There have been five mass extinction events in ages past, and we are now in the sixth.  Childs takes us on an amusing visit to the site of a catastrophic mass extinction, the state of Iowa, where 90 percent of the ecosystem has been reduced to agriculture.  He and a buddy spent two days hiking through fields, dwarfed by tall stalks of corn (maize), during a week of blast furnace heat. 

They were looking for signs of life besides corn, and they found almost none.  The ecosystem was once home to 300 species of plants, 60 mammals, 300 birds, and over 1,000 insects.  “This had historically been tallgrass prairie, one of the largest and most diverse biomasses in North America where a person on horseback could not be seen for the height of the grass.”  The sixth mass extinction is unlike the previous five, in that it is the result of human activities, an embarrassing accomplishment.

Yeast devours sugar and converts it into alcohol and carbon dioxide.  When yeast are added to a vat of freshly pressed grape juice, they plunge into a sweet paradise, and promptly produce a bubbly population explosion.  The alcohol in the vat will keep increasing until it reaches toxic levels, at which point the yeast experience a mass extinction event, the tragic consequence of living in an artificial environment constructed by thirsty alcoholics.

Childs believes that civilization and human domination of the planet waited until recently because we thrive in warm weather.  Humans evolved in a tropical climate.  Eventually, we migrated into non-tropical climates, and developed the skills and technology necessary for surviving in chilly weather, but the ice ages were a time of struggle, not a sweet paradise.  Then, a freak thing happened.  The weather got warm, and stayed warm, for 10,000 years.  Suddenly, we were like yeast in grape juice.  Yippee!

The 800-pound gorilla in this book is climate change, and concern about the decades that lie before us.  Childs cites the views of a number of scientists, and they are all over the place.  A loose cannon at the EPA says that global warming is a hoax, but the others agree that the climate is warming, and humans are the primary culprits.  Some think that we’ve passed the tipping point, and all ice will soon be gone.  Others think that if emissions are reduced, disaster might be avoided.  One is sure that technology will fix everything — geoengineering will allow us to control the planet’s climate like a thermostat.  Another says that humankind will be gone in 100 years.

Climate history tells us that global temperatures commonly swing up and down, sometimes as much as 10° to 12°C.  Huge temperature swings lead to extinctions, but life on Earth has persisted.  The current jump in temperature is unlike the previous ones in that it is the outcome of human activities.  It is the result of a unique combination of factors, with no historical precedent.  Humans are unique in being able to adapt to a wide variety of ecosystems, but ecosystems are far less adaptable to sudden climate shifts.  Agriculture is on thin ice, as are seven billion people.

In a hut on the Greenland ice sheet, Childs had a long chat with José Rial, a chaos researcher and climate change scholar.  Rial understands that nature is highly unstable, and quite capable of rapid and unpredictable changes.  “What we study doesn’t always help us predict very much, but it helps us to understand what is possible.”  Childs added, “He knows that the actual future is the one we never expect.”

Childs, Craig, Apocalyptic Planet — Field Guide to the Everending Earth, Pantheon Books, New York, 2012.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Bloodstoppers & Bearwalkers

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is commonly called the U.P., thus its residents are Yoopers.  The arrival of civilization in the U.P. created a number of resource extraction colonies to disassemble the wilderness paradise.  Whites were attracted to the region to mine the furs, fish, copper, iron, and forests.  Long winters and marginal soils have spared it from being obliterated by industrial agriculture and suburban sprawl.  Population density is low.  The biggest city, Marquette, has just 21,000 souls.

Richard Dorson (1916-1981) was born into an affluent family in New York City.  He received his PhD from Harvard.  When he was hired by Michigan State University in 1944, he had never heard of the U.P.  In 1946, he boarded the ferry at Mackinaw City, landed in the U.P., and spent five months researching the folklore of the region.  He visited mining communities, lumber camps, beer gardens, and Indian villages, seeking out the venerable storytellers.  They included the Anishinabe, Cornish, Finns, Irish, French, Slovenians, Croatians, Swedes, and many others.  He met quite a few fascinating characters, listened to a lot of tall tales, and obviously had a good time in the process.

Then he wrote Bloodstoppers & Bearwalkers, which presented a scruffy parade of rustic Yoopers.  Harvard published it in 1952, after MSU refused to.  Dorson’s book is valuable because it recorded the essence of a number of cultures, many of which no longer exist.  Typical Yoopers were the opposite of wealthy East Coast dandies.  The whites often came from the lower classes of Europe, forced out of their homelands by the turbulence of the Industrial Revolution.  Many had little or no education; more than a few were illiterate.  They were strong, hard-working people who did not bloat and rot from soft indoor living.

Most of Dorson’s sources were born in the nineteenth century, but the oral cultures they came from had deep roots in the past, and deep roots in the living Earth.  There were Yoopers who could shapeshift into bears, wolves, pigs, and owls.  Potent curses could cause the death of others.  Anishinabe and Finnish shamans had powers for counteracting black magic.  Fairies were everywhere.  Yoopers spent their lives in a land that was spiritually alive, rich with power and vitality.

Dorson was hanging out with folks who were semi-Medieval at a time when modern America was dropping nuclear bombs, buying televisions, building skyscrapers, and zooming around in ridiculous automobiles.  Sadly, the ancient art of storytelling, humankind’s oldest profession, was being brushed aside by modern mass entertainment — pulp magazines, soap operas, and movie thrillers.

In the nineteenth century, Yooper communities spent long winters in isolation.  The waterways froze, the roads were buried under deep drifts of snow, and stores had no fresh produce for months.  In springtime, when the ice melted, the arrival of the first ship was always a day of joyful celebration and clattering church bells — reconnection with the outer world.  There was no television, radio, internet, phones, or recorded music.  Entertainment on long winter nights came from telling old stories and singing old songs — experiences shared by gatherings of family and neighbors, not in isolation with techno-gadgets.

Many communities had bloodstoppers, who could stop heavy bleeding by speaking words of power, or a simple touch.  There were far-sighted seers who could foretell the future, and psychics who could communicate with the spirits of the dead, or accurately describe things that were only known by you.

In those days, life was filled with mysteries — accidents, illness, deaths, disasters.  Misfortunes were often explained as being the result of malevolent acts of evil people.  The Anishinabe referred to these dark beings as bearwalkers, who could appear as animals, birds, or lights glowing in the night.  The French called them loup-garous, something like werewolves, devious shapeshifters. 

As we move into the post-antibiotic era, the post-carbon era, the era of spectacular climate juju, life will be filled with mysteries and misfortunes once again.  Without the ultra-expensive safety net of high-tech medicine, folks who are unwell will either recover or die, as the fates desire.  There will be few stores, if any.  We’ll be far less mobile.  Communication will be limited to those around us.  We’ll actually have to go outdoors — yikes!

The whites ravaged the U.P. because they knew almost nothing about ecological history, the mistakes of their ancestors.  They did not have great powers of foresight, nor deep reverence for the health of the ecosystem.  They remained addicted to an incoming flow of goods from distant industrial centers.  Few of them unplugged themselves from civilization and learned to live with the land.

The Anishinabe preserved a long tradition of reverence and respect for the family of life.  Dorson noted that they “all live in the woods as if the cities of white men never existed.”  Of course, anyone who has ever experienced a city will understand why.  They inhabited the same region as the whites, but the land was their home, a sacred place, where they were reverend guests — an entirely different relationship.

Today, we have fabulous education systems, and instant access to staggering quantities of information.  Today, there are specialists who actually understand ecological history, and are extremely distressed by the mindless destruction caused by consumer society.  But our schools do not major in teaching reading, writing, and ecological history.  Our religious leaders do not teach us reverence and respect for creation.  Tomorrow doesn’t matter.

Oddly, most of the graduates rolling off the academic assembly line these days are barely distressed at all.  They are lost in a fantasy world, mesmerized by a moronic belief in perpetual economic growth, eager to devote their lives to accumulating and discarding unnecessary stuff.  Sadly, the more our society is educated, the faster we destroy the future.  Circle what is wrong with this picture. 

In 1900, many whites dreamed that their children would spend their lives mining and cutting pines.  But in the decades that followed, as “infinite” resources became scarce, their communities and culture would be scattered to the winds.  Many moved to Detroit, where there were no wolves, bears, or fairies, and their children were raised in the urban consumer culture, which displaced the old rustic one.  Importantly, in just one generation, the culture of the youngsters was very different from the culture of their elders.  Cultures can make sudden sharp turns, for better or worse.

Another huge cultural shift is certain to occur as the collapse of industrial civilization proceeds.  At some point, all the daffy infantile balderdash of the consumer worldview will have no purpose whatsoever.  The throbbing lust for McMansions, giant pickups, and huge TVs will become meaningless.  The game of life will be nothing like today.

What can we do today to prepare the young for the coming storms?  It would be awesome if we could help them acquire the intelligence needed to replace the loony consumer culture with a new one that is far more in balance with the family of life, something similar to the Anishinabe perhaps.  We need to help them as much as we can before the lights go out.

Dorson, Richard M., Bloodstoppers & Bearwalkers, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1952.


In 1983, I biked to Wales and visited the hamlet of Cwmbelan, where my great-grandfather Richard E. Rees was born in 1843.  I had a beautiful experience chatting with Gwen Ingram, who lived in the old mill.  She relished the old days when the hamlet thrived.  Her father and grandfather were carpenters.  The water wheel drove their machinery.  The schoolhouse next door had been full of the sounds of playing children.  There were two pubs, two chapels, a post office, and over a hundred people.

Gwen told me about Mr. Morris, the village blacksmith.  He was a conjurer, a white witch, a healer.  When sickness or accident occurred, Mr. Morris was summoned, not a doctor.  In fact, doctors often came to visit the conjurer.  Once a year, for a small fee, Mr. Morris would cast a spell on the doctors, which would protect them from harmful curses.

He was wise in the use of herbs and potions, but he also had other powers.  When a horse ripped its leg on barbed wire and began bleeding heavily, the conjurer was called.  He hurried out of the village.  As soon as he entered the same field that the horse was in, the bleeding stopped.

She told me another story.  Many years ago, when the factory was a woodworking shop, the water wheel stopped one day.  It had jammed.  Her father went out to repair it.  Her grandfather was inside working.  The wheel started again, suddenly.  A saw began cutting into her grandfather’s knee.  It was serious.

Mr. Morris was called.  As soon as he entered the room, the bleeding stopped.  “It will be all right now,” he said.  A doctor who saw the wound said that the leg would have to go.  Mr. Morris disagreed, “It will heal.”  Old Mr. Ingram had to use a cane after that, but he could still walk the entire ridge of the roof when he was 70 years old.  I asked her why Mr. Morris hadn’t passed his knowledge on to his children.  “They didn’t have the intelligence,” she said.

I spent two afternoons talking with Gwen.  She was an inspiration, a beautiful soul.  I had finished my family research and had to go.  Money was running short, and I had to get back to Luxembourg.  I said good-bye to Gwen.  I said good-bye to Cwmbelan.

Maybe a week later, I was in Luxembourg.  By dusk, I had a neighbor at the camp, a 22-year old Swiss lad on a Yamaha.  I had two 98-cent bottles of wine.  He had a fifth of scotch.  We commenced an exchange of adventure stories.  He had been in Ireland.  He was a carpenter and an architecture student.

When I was talking about Wales and Mr. Morris, the conjurer, he lit up.  My friend was a conjurer too.  His grandmother and aunt practiced earth magic.  They had taught him.  He never talked to anyone about this because most people saw it as silly superstition.  I didn’t.  I pumped him.  Yes, stopping bleeding is easy.  Fevers, headaches, body pains all had cures.  People who his family couldn’t cure were sent to an old man in the hills.

He had found some old books while renovating a house, books of conjury: The Fifth and Sixth Books of Moses, and The Book of Seven Secrets.  I wanted to learn these methods, read the books.  Would he be willing to teach me?  No.  It is traditional that you only pass the knowledge on to two people in your life.  They have to be younger than you.  He was saving it for his children.  It was reassuring that the arts hadn’t been lost to time.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Mortal Sea

Until the twentieth century, it was commonly believed that the oceans, filled with vast quantities of fish, were immortal.  It was impossible for mere humans to ever make a dent in the sea’s enormous bounty.  Similarly, iron miners once believed that the Lake Superior lodes could be mined for eternity.  The white pines of the region were so numerous that it would be impossible to cut them all down.  Incredible fantasies are common among folks who are blissfully ignorant of eco-history, and don’t understand the reality of fish mining, mineral mining, forest mining, soil mining.

A society unaware of eco-history is like an elder lost in an Alzheimer’s fog.  He doesn’t recognize his wife or children, and has no memory of who he is, where he is, or what he’s done.  History turns on floodlights, sharply illuminating the path of our journey, making the boo-boos stand out like sore thumbs.  It’s more than a little embarrassing, but if we can see the pitfalls, we’re less likely to leap into them.  In theory, we are capable of learning from our mistakes.

Jeffrey Bolster is a history professor who once loved to fish.  He realized that the Hall of History desperately needed more illumination on humankind’s abusive relationship with the oceans, because it was a tragicomedy of endlessly repeated self-defeating mistakes.  He wrote The Mortal Sea, which focused on the rape of the North Atlantic — and he quit fishing.

In prehistoric Western Europe, many folks congregated along the water’s edge.  They harvested shellfish from the sea, but most of their fish came from rivers and estuaries.  Following the transition to agriculture and metal tools, their population grew and grew.  Forests were cut, fields were plowed, and streams were loaded with eroded soil, livestock wastes, human sewage, and industrial discharges.  Hungry mobs got too good at catching too many fish with too many traps.  England passed the Salmon Preservation Act in 1285, but it was little enforced and generally ignored.

Meanwhile, Viking innovations resulted in boat designs that were excellent for travelling the open seas.  They made it possible to aggressively pursue saltwater seafood, which was incredibly abundant.  Vikings learned to air-dry cod, which could be stored for years, and provide sustenance for long voyages of walrus hunting, auk killing, raping, and pillaging.  Before long, all coastal communities started building seaworthy boats, and hauling in the cod, mackerel, herring, and so on.  The human population grew, and marine life diminished.

In the sixteenth century, when Europeans explored the American shoreline, they were astonished by the abundance of sea life.  They observed hundreds of thousands of walruses, which could grow up to 2,600 pounds (1,180 kg), critters that were nearly extinct at home.  In those days, the oil industry was based on whales, walruses, and seals.

Halibut could grow to 700 pounds (317 kg).  There were sturgeons more than 600 pounds (272 kg), and cod five feet long (1.5 m).  One lad caught 250 cod in an hour, with just four hooks.  They killed seabirds like there was no tomorrow, using many for fish bait.  Lobsters were huge and plentiful, but their flesh spoiled quickly, so they were fed to hogs, used for bait, and spread on fields for fertilizer.

Maine and northward was home to the Mi’kmaqs and Malecites, who got 90 percent of their calories from sea life.  Their population was not supersized by agriculture.  They had no metal tools or high tech boats, nor a spirituality in which humans were the masters of the universe.  For some reason, they had failed to destroy their ecosystem.  Then, they were discovered, and the whites went crazy with astonishing greed.  “By 1800 the northwest Atlantic was beginning to resemble European seas.”  Where’s the fish?

Between America and Europe, the boreal North Atlantic had been among the world’s most productive fishing grounds.  The bulk of the book discusses how clever white folks skillfully transformed unimaginable abundance into an aquatic disaster area.  In the waters off Maine, Peak Cod occurred around the Civil War, long before industrial fish mining.  By 1875, writers were speculating about the extinction of menhaden, lobster, halibut, eider, shad, salmon, mackerel, and cod.

The fish mining industry was driven by a desperate arms race.  Hand-line fishing had been the norm since the Middle Ages.  Each fisherman set four to twenty-eight baited hooks.  Then, geniuses invented long-line fishing, which used 4,000 hooks.  More fish were caught, and more money was made.  By 1870, some fishers were setting 63 miles of lines with 96,000 baited hooks.

By 1880, geniuses were delighted to discover that gill nets could triple the haul — and they eliminated the need for bait, which was getting scarce and expensive.  For mackerel mining, the new purse seines were fabulous.  They used nets to surround an entire school of fish, and could land 150,000 per day.  In 1905 came steam-powered otter trawls — huge nets dragged across the sea floor that caught everything.  Only 45 percent of the fish landed were kept.  Unmarketable fish were tossed back dead, including juveniles of marketable species.  Millions of dead juveniles did not grow into mature fish, reproduce, and maintain the viability of the species.

Throughout the long gang rape of the North Atlantic, there were always voices urging caution and conservation, but they never ran the show.  As more and more capital poured into fish mining enterprises, resistance to regulation increased.  The one and only objective for fat cats was maximizing short-term profits.  Government bureaucrats who monitored the industry experimented with many interesting programs for increasing fish stocks — everything except for reducing fishing pressure.

New technology expanded the market for seafood.  Salting and drying were replaced by keeping fish on ice, and shipping them to market by rail.  Later, canneries created even bigger demand for fish.  The first floating fish factory was launched in 1954, and was followed by many more.  These boats had assembly lines for gutting, cleaning, and filleting the fish.  The fillets were quick frozen, for indefinite storage.  Waste was turned to fishmeal, another source of profit.

In 1992, the cod landings in Canada vanished, and the fishery was closed.  The U.S. closed fishing on Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine.  “The impossible had occurred.  People had killed most of the fish in the ocean.”  Folks had been overfishing since Viking days, but industrial fishing put the process into overdrive.  The cod show no signs of recovery.

Bolster concluded that the way to avoid unsustainable harvests was to adopt the precautionary approach, which meant always selecting the least destructive option.  This was an excellent idea, for a world ruled by pure reason.  Maybe we should contemplate phasing out all commercial fishing, because history is clear: any enterprise having to do with the accumulation of personal property, wealth, and social status tends to turn ambitious folks into insatiable parasites with no respect for the future.  Actually, the industry is working hard to terminate itself — before oceanic acidification beats it.

One more thing before I go.  Some folks have dreams of replacing today’s maritime fleet with zero emission sailing ships, but they don’t remember the downside.  Bolster warns us, “Fishing made coal mining look safe.  No other occupation in America came close to the deep-sea fisheries for workplace mortality.”  In just Gloucester, from 1866 to 1890, more than 380 schooners and 2,450 men were lost at sea.  When powerful squalls race in, sailboats are hard to control, and very dangerous.

Over the centuries, interregional commerce has made many fat cats fatter, but it’s also led to many catastrophes, like the spread of bubonic plague, cholera, malaria, influenza, measles, smallpox, rinderpest, potato blight, chestnut blight, assorted empires, and on and on.  Countless millions have died as an unintended consequence of long-distance travel.  It isn’t necessary for a sustainable future.

Bolster, W. Jeffrey, The Mortal Sea — Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail, The Belknap Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2012.