Sunday, December 22, 2019

Winter Solstice 2019

Howdy!  I survived one more lap around the sun, and it was a productive and satisfying year.  It was one more year of being a wordsmith in a quiet hermitage.  Staying focused on my life’s work is a fairly full time job.  It’s not a busy whirlwind of excitement, distractions, and annoyances.

Progress continues on Wild, Free, & Happy, at a pace something like 6,000 words per month.  Since September 2018, I’ve been sharing new sections on my blog, every two weeks.  This year, I’ve been steadily attracting more readers.  In the last few days, the total lifetime views of my blog have passed 400,000 (up from 275,000 at the end of 2017).

Tonight, I peeked at my three previous solstice newsletters.  At the end of 2016, I had been working on the new book for several months, and had gathered 229 pages of notes, sorted into a rough outline.  By the end of 2017, the monster had grown to 500 pages.  It eventually soared beyond 800 pages, and has now slimmed down to 588.

The writing process is largely about selecting the most interesting factoids, composting the chaff, and then pounding the keepers into clear and coherent rough draft passages.  Imagine having a jigsaw puzzle that required a table that was ten acres large, and consisted of a million pieces.  But, you have a pile of ten million pieces, most of which do not belong in the puzzle, and have to be set aside.  Oy!

The process can get extremely tedious, but computer magic allows me to produce quality that would have been impossible with a Remington manual typewriter and hundreds of index cards.  Toshiba has a far better memory than I have, and it can find needles in haystacks in a second or three.  I’ve taken thousands of pages notes on 500 books.  I’ve stashed 600 articles, webpages, and scholarly papers in my Essays folder.  My Facebook community resides in more than 20 nations, and they are sharing loads of news that NPR and the BBC don’t mention.

In a hardcore “shop till you drop” culture, jabbering about ecological sustainability can make you look like a disgusting doom pervert.  It’s an occupational hazard, but someone has to do it.  There are growing signs that the tide is changing.  As Big Mama Nature is rocking the boat harder and harder, it’s becoming less easy to continue fantasizing that we’re living in a utopian wonderland.  More folks are sensing a dystopian drift.

In June 2017, Reverend Michael Dowd and his wife Connie Barlow stopped by to visit, an extremely intelligent and interesting couple.  Both are authors.  His spiritual journey has led him to an ecological path.  Her journey is focused on saving as many tree species as possible from extinction.  Two landmarks in Michael’s pilgrimage were the discovery of the climate crisis and deep ecology in 2012, and his life changing encounter with William Catton’s masterpiece, Overshoot, in 2015.

Somewhere along the line, he discovered my work, and was blown away by my books and blog — many stimulating new ideas for him.  He is a nomadic eco-theologian who travels the country, preaching at progressive churches.  His mission is to encourage the notion that religion is perfectly compatible with science, evolution, and ecology.  It’s moral and ethical to care about the health of creation, the future, and the generations yet to be born.

Michael and Connie dropped by again this October.  It’s always thrilling to have face-to-face contact with those rare pilgrims who, more than most, are present in full dose reality.  Our conversations are very high energy.  The couple avoids the dreaded curse of boredom by continually working on a hundred projects at a frantic pace.  I learned that they’ve been involved with folks who are working to publish the second edition of Walter Youngquist’s book GeoDestinies.

Walter was one of the core elders of the Peak Oil movement, a group of lads who tried to warn humankind that our extreme dependence on ever growing amounts of finite nonrenewable resources had put us in the express lane to big trouble.  As early as 1976, he was speaking to local audiences, warning them that infinite growth was not possible, and the planet’s resources were not unlimited — trouble ahead.  Back then (and still today), nobody wanted to hear this news.   He was never invited back.  Being present in reality can be a prickly and frustrating path.

I corresponded with him from 1996 to 2018, until he died at the age of 97.  He lived in Eugene, the town I moved to in 2009.  He was a geology professor, and a consulting geologist, who did a lot of work for fossil energy corporations.  In 1997, Walter published GeoDestinies, to explain Peak Oil to humankind.  It made waves, and was cited in a number of other important books and websites.

After the first printing of GeoDestinies sold out, many urged to him to print more.  Unfortunately, the global resource story was a fast moving target.  Walter wanted to update the text before printing more, but he couldn’t write as fast as the issue was unfolding.  Finally, this long awaited second edition was completed in April 2012.  Unfortunately, the process hit some curves, and it’s now seven years later.

The team working on the second edition asked me to co-write the book’s preface with Charles A. S. Hall, a retired systems ecology professor.  He is famous for originating the concept of EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested), a vital tool for comprehending the trajectory of the temporary petroleum era, as it glides into its sunset phase. 

In 1930, the petroleum industry had an EROEI of maybe 100:1 — when drillers invested one unit of energy to get oil, they could extract 100 units of black gold energy.  In Texas and Oklahoma, new wells could shoot gushers of oil high into the sky.  No pumping was needed, just open the valve.  The good old days are over.  U.S. oil production now has an EROEI of about 10:1.  Alberta tar sands extraction ranges from 3.2:1 and 5:1.

Global production of conventional oil peaked in 2005, and has significantly dropped since then.  Current efforts are focused on difficult to extract deposits — tar sands, heavy oil, shale oil (tight oil), and deep water wells.  All are low EROEI.  Each well in a fracking project is far more expensive than a conventional one, and each well is depleted far more quickly (up to 90% of the oil can be extracted in just three years).  Complexity drives up prices, and high prices will eventually have serious impact on the global economy.

The last I heard, the GeoDestinies manuscript was in the process of being indexed, and getting some polishing by copy editors.  The plan was to provide a free PDF of the 600+ page book.  Many books have presented histories of soil mining, forest mining, water mining, and fish mining.  Walter’s book discusses how history has been shaped by geology — in a fascinating and exceedingly thorough manner.  Readers will discover that we are approaching firm limits on the extraction of strategic mineral resources, and that life as we know it has an expiration date.

Anyway, I continue attempting to conduct my life like a mature adult, as much as possible, while residing in a fantastically unsustainable culture.  This year marked my tenth anniversary of being car-free.  I still own a small motorcycle.  This year I bought 13 gallons of gas (and the tank is still half full).  This is down from 19 gallons in 2018, and 21 gallons in 2017.  It’s been nearly 12 years since I last boarded a plane, and I will never, ever, do that again.

I’ve also been riding the bus more.  Senior citizens get a free bus pass.  In an era when frantic stressed out drivers are paying less and less attention to driving, it feels delightfully safe travelling in something resembling an armored personnel carrier, cruising across town with members of the Greta Thunberg fan club.

In 2019, the average price of a new car purchased in the U.S. was $36,718.  The average annual cost of driving a shiny new motorized wheelchair now ranges from $7,114 (small sedan) to $10,839 (pickup).  Looking cool and respectable is getting very expensive.  In my town, 12 months of bus passes for adults cost $540, youths pay half of that, and kiddies ride free.

About 98% of my travel is via an old-fashioned bicycle that requires me to actually push pedals up and down.  I have no plans to buy an electric scooter, skateboard, or bicycle, despite the sharp toll this takes on my social status.  One day, in a forest by the river, I had a good laugh.  I watched a pudgy man on an electric skateboard, humming down the pathway, eyes riveted to his cell phone, enjoying his invigorating escape into the great outdoors.

All the best!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Wild Free and Happy Sample 28

[Note: This is the twenty-eighth sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while.  My blog is home to reviews of 202 books, and you are very welcome to explore them.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.] 


Mouflon are the wild ancestors of sheep, and they still survive because they are faster than Olympic athletes on steroids.  They excel at racing across steep, rocky landscapes.  They also have large curled horns, capable of rattling the brains of their bloodthirsty foes.  Long ago, folks sometimes discovered mouflon youngsters, brought them back to camp, and raised them.  Unlike rowdy aurochs, the young lambs were less challenging to raise in captivity.

Paul Shepard noted that wild animals have a stable genome.  Thus, the genes of today’s mouflon are likely much the same as their ancestors 800+ thousand years ago.  But during the process of domestication, breeders deliberately selected for characteristics more beneficial for milk production, wool quality, and ease of control.  Bye-bye stable genes.

After dogs, sheep were among the first critters to be domesticated, maybe 11,000 years ago.  During this tragic demotion, their brains eventually became 24 percent smaller than their wild ancestors.  They lost a lot of their survival skills.  I’ve seen several reports of wolves killing dozens of sheep, and only eating one or two.  When wolves ran into large prey that acted so abnormally helpless, it was surreal and mystifying.  The sacred kill is usually a more dignified ceremony. 

In the old days, sheep shed their winter wool when springtime brought warmer temperatures.  Over the centuries, clever humans have “improved” the sheep they own and exploit.  Because of selective breeding, modern sheep are more likely to retain their wool, rather than scatter it all over the countryside.  This makes it easier for herders to collect as much of their precious wool as possible. 

In Australia, folks discovered one domesticated sheep who had managed to escape six years earlier, and enjoy a life of freedom.  Unfortunately, the miserable critter had never been sheared, and was carrying around 93 pounds (42 kg) of filthy wool.  This beat the previous record of another sheep found in New Zealand that carried so much wool it could barely walk.  It was blind, crippled, and near death.  Unshorn sheep are vulnerable to dying from heat stroke in warm weather.

Domesticated sheep are also vulnerable to pests like scab mites, that thrive in herds of confined prisoners.  The mites multiply and cause skin lesions, which lead to wool loss and open bleeding wounds.  Complications include hypothermia, infections, and death.  Mites are spread via the herder’s clothing, sheering tools, fence posts, and bits of wool hanging from bushes.

Mouflon manage their own lives, and fully take care of themselves.  Enslaved sheep require a lot of human assistance.  Shepherds are needed to protect them from bloodthirsty predators — noxious pests that must be aggressively exterminated whenever possible.  Smart shepherds are careful to avoid overgrazing.  Sometimes sheep also need to be provided with hay, water, salt, and shelter.

Kassia St Clair noted that some types of sheep were selectively bred to produce white wool, which is easier to dye.  This would be a vulnerability for wild ones, because it would make them far more visible to predators.  I learned about St Clair’s book when I read Claire Eamer’s fascinating essay, No Wool, No Vikings. 

Viking Sheep

For the first 250,000 years, our ancestors ran around naked in the tropics.  With the colonization of snow country, folks were confronted with the new possibility of freezing to death.  In the early days, it was fashionable to wear clothing made of animal skins and pelts, ideally cut and sewn into stylish tailor made active wear.  This clothing kept folks fairly warm, until it got wet.  Much later, innovation provided colonists with wool clothing, which stayed fairly warm even when wet.  The adaptation of clothing was another radical transition in the human saga.  It opened up vast regions of uninhabited land for exploration and colonization.

St Clair wrote that Vikings used wool to make their clothing, mittens, blankets, and sails.  A blanket required the wool of 17 sheep.  It took two highly skilled women more than a year to make a typical square sail.  To outfit an average Viking cargo ship and crew, making the clothing, bedding, and sails would require 440 pounds (200 kg) of wool, and ten person years of labor for producing, shearing, carding, spinning, weaving, and finishing the products.  Some believe that, in the old days, folks in snow country might have spent more hours making cloth than acquiring food.

Viking long ships were yet another radical transition.  Sailing boats were not a new idea.  Folks used them in other regions, like the Mediterranean.  Coastal regions of Scandinavia were not home to many sheltered, deep water harbors, so Viking ships were built with a shallow draft, so they could be landed on beaches.  This made them great for surprise attacks and fast getaways.  The use of sail power was enabled by keels that could be lowered in deep water, and raised when beaching.

These new boats allowed Vikings to raid communities that had formerly been safe and secure for centuries.  In A.D. 98, Tacitus wrote about the Suiones, who lived along the Swedish coastline.  For them, the sea provided an invincible defensive barrier.  It was impossible for enemies to attack them by water.  But the new boats set the stage for the Viking era — several centuries of raiding, pillaging, bloodshed, and colonizing that rocked northern Europe. 

Remarkably, the design of longboats also made them capable of travelling on the open ocean.  Rugged woolen sails allowed them to cross the Atlantic and build an outpost at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada.  In those days, most of humankind spent their entire lives fairly close to their place of birth.  Imagine gaining the ability to sail to unknown lands more than a thousand miles away.  This was a mind-blowing possibility.  It rubbished the traditional perception of space and limits.

Long distance sea travel flung open a ghastly Pandora’s Box.  Sailing ships enabled aggressive conquerors to colonize vast regions around the world.  Environmental history is loaded with horror stories of pathogens delivered by long distance sea travel — potato blight, anthrax, Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight, white-nose fungus, bubonic plague, smallpox, cholera, typhoid, yellow fever, influenza, and countless others.  Millions of unlucky indigenous people have been conquered, enslaved, and/or killed by alien invaders from distant lands.

Anyway, wool was big juju.  Prior to the nineteenth century, clothing was the product of extremely labor-intensive processes.  For hardworking common folks, clothing was precious, carefully mended and patched, and passed on to the next generation.  When someone died in a hospital, the clothing of the deceased had to be removed and given to the lawful inheritors.  Many folks owned little more than what they were wearing.  Like moon explorers, wool space suits enabled tropical primates to survive in frigid life-threatening environments.

White Gold

St Clair also discussed English wool.  The Normans were Vikings who colonized the north coast of France and smelled like sheep.  In 1066, they conquered England.  By the thirteenth century, England had become famous for its high quality wool.  Regions that produced the softest, richest wool could sell it for very high prices.  Most of the cloth makers that bought the wool were not English, many were Flemish or Florentine.  Ships that carried the wool to buyers were prime targets for pirates, eager to snatch the precious white gold, and get rich quick.

On the manors of wealthy aristocrats, the peasant tenants were given rights to use specific strips of cropland.  Assignments would change from year to year, because some cropland was regularly allowed to lie fallow and recharge.  Beside cropland, there were also common pastures, and common forests, which the whole community could use.  Tenants raised livestock, hunted, foraged, grew vegetables, and cut firewood and timber.  The survival of the peasant community was dependent on always having access to the commons.  Even with access, the lives of most were brutally harsh and marginal, compared to modern couch potatoes. 

By 1297, half of the total English economy was generated by the wool industry.  Before long, ambitious aristocrats realized that they could make far more money from raising sheep than by collecting rents from their dirt-poor tenant farmers.  This deep hunger for wealth slowly led to a process known as the enclosure movement.  Fences and hedgerows were created to prohibit tenants from entering the commons.  They were not amused, they were doomed.

Graham Harvey wrote that the enclosures began in England, during the fourteenth century.  They gradually spread over the passage of several centuries, and then surged from 1750 to 1860.  Simon Fairlie noted that between 1760 and 1870, about 7 million acres (2.8 million ha), about a sixth the area of England, was changed from common land to enclosed land.

One source estimated that, in Scotland alone, a half million peasants were driven off the land by the enclosures.  No food, no home, no future.  Across the U.K., the dispossessed were forced into filthy, disease ridden cities, where there were no social safety nets.  Rioting became popular, as did infant mortality.

John Reader noted that the enclosure movement led to the breakdown of a long standing culture of land-based subsistence living for many.  Tenant communities had benefitted from the mutual support of extended families.  They were replaced by a small number of shepherds.  With the tenants gone, there were fewer horses and oxen on the manor, so more grass was available for sheep.  Tennant cottages and outbuildings were demolished.  Several hundred villages disappeared, except for their churches.  Aristocrats enjoyed getting higher income from their manors, and raising sheep was more dependable than agriculture.  From year to year, grain harvests were quite vulnerable to the mood swings of weather and luck.

Harvey wrote that in the Black Death era (1340s), Britain was a backwater.  Three centuries later, it was Europe’s most advanced country.  Wool flooded the U.K. with cash, and for 200 years it was the world’s richest country.  Millions of hungry dirty people in cities were willing to work insane hours, in miserable conditions, for peanuts.  This nourished the emergence of a powerful industrial state.  By 1832, the medieval peasant community had been completely destroyed.  Like I said, wool was big juju.  The gentle sheep had eaten many lives and villages.

My Ancestors

My great-great-grandmother was Sarah Cleaton, who married Edward Rees in 1838.  They were born and raised in the village of Cwmbelan, Wales, where a small stream passing through the village powered a waterwheel at the flannel factory.  Sheep grazed on the surrounding hillsides (formerly lush forest).  Cwmbelan was in the parish of Llangurig.  In 1836, the 49,600 acre (20,000 ha) parish had 37,000 acres of commons.  By 1875, “large quantities of the common land have been enclosed.”

Edward and Sarah had three sons before he died at 23 from “decline.”  Sarah was a handloom weaver, as was her mother Mary, and her sister Catherine.  So were her sister-in-laws, Mary, Elizabeth, Margaret, and Jane Rees.  Handloom weaving was a skilled profession.  It apparently provided something like a respectable middle class income for that era. 

With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution and its power mills, 500,000 weavers lost their source of income, according to Clive Ponting.  Many were forced to move to filthy cities.  By 1861, Sarah and her three sons had moved south to Merthyr Tydfil, home to an iron mining district, Dowlais.  She was a barkeep at the Green Dragon pub, and her two older sons mined iron.

Merthyr Tydfil had four ironworks, and a slum known as Little Hell, where a super-poor population of “unhappy and lawless” folks were piled together in conditions of squalor that were at least as bad as Liverpool or Nottingham.  The district had no toilets.  Open sewers encouraged the spread of cholera and typhoid.  Millions of friendly lice thrived on folks who rarely if ever bathed.

Unfortunately, for Sarah and sons, by 1861, the ironworks industry in Merthyr Tydfil got blindsided by new technology, the Bessemer process, and local prosperity was fading fast.  In 1863 they moved to Pennsylvania.

In 1919, her son Richard E. Rees, celebrated his fiftieth anniversary in Columbus, Ohio.  To commemorate the event, he sent a story to a Welsh newspaper.  In it he wrote, “I have worked underground for 65 years; ten in the Old Country, two in Pennsylvania, and 53 in Ohio.  He was 75 years old, and lived another ten years.

Australian Sheep

Elinore Melville wrote about the introduction of sheep in Australia, where the firestick farming by Aborigines maintained expansive regions of grassland.  Unfortunately, this excellent grassland was supporting the existence of useless vermin called kangaroos.  Britain wasn’t interested in buying kangaroo meat, but they would pay good money for wool.  So, colonists worked hard to exterminate as many kangaroos as possible, as they rapidly expanded the sheep ranching industry.  By 1845 there were 9 million sheep, and in 1854 there were 12 million. 

The British colonists came from a moist land that had reliable rainfall.  Australia was different.  When a herd had stripped the vegetation from an area, shepherds moved the herd to a greener pasture.  The vegetation they devoured had been storing moisture, which slowed evaporation.  The land dried out, and groundwater was not replenished.  Drought followed drought.  Overgrazing often rubbished grassland regions within 7 to 20 years. 

Bill Gammage noted that the native kangaroo grass was excellent (“caviar for grazers”).  It was a deep-rooted, drought tolerant perennial that held the soil in place, retained soil moisture, survived fire, and was highly nutritious.  It remained green after four months without rain, a great asset for wildlife in drought times.  The colonists’ sheep grazed it down to bare clay, killing the precious grass.

Colonists drained wetlands to expand pastures.  Livestock proceeded to compact the soil, which dried out, and cracked.  Springs, ponds, and creeks evaporated, eliminating the critters that lived in them.  When rains returned, rapid runoff encouraged erosion, landslides, deep gullies, floods, silt chokes, and the spread of salts.  An observer in 1853 commented on the growing soil destruction: “Ruts, seven, eight, and ten feet deep (2 to 3 m), and as wide, are found for miles, where two years ago it was covered with a tussocky grass like a land marsh.”

Navajo Sheep

Between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries, the Navajo moved from Alaska and western Canada down into the U.S. southwest, home of the Hopi, Zuñi, and Pueblo.  In the early days, the Navajo lived as hunter-gatherers.  In 1598 Spanish colonists arrived, bringing with them domesticated sheep, cattle, horses, and goats.  The Navajo became sedentary, and learned sheep herding, weaving, and gardening.  They planted fruit orchards.  When forage was still adequate, livestock provided more reliable access to food, so famine times were reduced.  This new mode of living led to population growth.

The Spanish did not allow the Navajo to own or ride horses, but eventually they acquired them.  Horses made it much easier to hunt, and to raid neighbors.  Stealing sheep was much easier than raising them.  Raiding was about making unannounced visits to neighboring tribes and stealing sheep, horses, women, and children.  Sometimes the defenders were killed and scalped.  Naturally, other tribes responded by raiding the Navajo.  Raiding was an extremely common practice among pastoral societies around the world. 

Peter Iverson noted that by 1846, the Navajo had 500,000 sheep, 30,000 cattle, and 10,000 horses, mules, and asses.  As white settlers moved in, they complained about the Indians.  So, the government ordered the Navajo to relocate to a reservation, where they could become farmers and get rich quick.  The Indians preferred to remain on their land, and continue living in their traditional manner.  This was not the proper response.

So, the government sent Lieutenant Colonel Kit Carson to make the whites happy.  In 1863 his troops brutally attacked the Navajos and destroyed homes, gardens, orchards, livestock, and people.  The 8,000 surviving natives were forced to march 300 miles (480 km) to the luxurious Fort Summer facility.  In 1868, they were allowed to return to a portion of their homeland.  Each family was given two sheep, one male, one female.

The railroad arrived in 1881, and trading posts appeared along its route.  This encouraged the Navajo to weave rugs and make jewelry to be used as trade goods.  They raised large herds of Churro sheep, which produced long, smooth, and less greasy wool that was ideal for hand spinning. 

By the time the Depression began in 1929, the Navajo population had swelled.  Kendall Bailes wrote that by 1933, two million acres (809,000 ha) of Navajo land was severely overgrazed, some of it reduced to desert.  There were huge erosion gullies, and large amounts of silt were moving into Lake Mead, the reservoir at Hoover Dam.  Their herding practices, developed 200 years earlier, when grass was abundant, didn’t work as well in a dryer climate, when there was far less grass.  Animals were starving.  In the western states, the Dust Bowl had begun.

In 1935, the Bureau of Indian Affairs conducted a survey on grazing land.  They found that the Navajo sheep flocks contained more than a million animals, and they were kept on land that could only support 560,000.

The government perceived this to be a very serious problem, for which the obvious solution was a sharp reduction in herd size.  The Navajo, on the other hand, believed that this was the opposite of a problem, it was a sacred gift.  Their livestock were tokens of wealth, status, and cultural identify.  They loved their goats and sheep almost as much as their own children.

The white authorities moved in, without permission, and by the 1940’s, the herds were reduced by half.  According to Iverson, at first the sheep were shipped urban centers to feed poor people.  Eventually, the animals were just taken over the hill, shot, piled up, and left to rot.  The government paid the Navajo for every animal eliminated, but the tribal economy was blindsided.  Navajo resentment over this action remains fierce.  The tribe now has a quota system for herd sizes in grazing ranges.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Total War

It’s always an exciting and mind expanding experience to get a library card, and spend at least 25 years studying environmental history and ecological sustainability, while also developing a loving intimate relationship with the ecosystem around you.  There’s something healthy, intelligent, and sane about being present in reality, including its tremendous and worsening dark side.  Year after year, the more you learn and heal, the less at home you feel in this culture, which has little interest in the wellbeing of the family of life.

Becoming present in reality transforms you into a peculiar weirdo.  The herd will move away from you, as you move away from it.  Congratulations!  You are outside the fence, outside the cult, outside the mass hysteria.  You can think for yourself, question everything, and begin unlearning all the garbage that has been poured into your brain over the years.  You can seek better paths.

A week ago, I snapped.  I read the latest paper by William E. Rees, the professor who was co-creator of the ecological footprint concept.  He warns us that we are deep into overshoot, and idiotically hippity-hopping down the path to catastrophe.  “Half the fossil energy ever used (and half the fossil CO2 ever produced), has been burned (emitted) in just the past 35 years!”  This is not a path with a long future.  Rees has come to the conclusion that humans are not “primarily a rational species.”  I agree.

The focus of his paper was on a narrow spectrum of the Earth Crisis: overshoot (i.e., excess demand for insufficient resources).  The full spectrum cannot be addressed in a nine page paper, or a nine volume report.  It’s far more complex.  Here’s what triggered me: “Defense of the status quo remains the default position of most other academic disciplines, governments, transnational corporations and international organizations.  Global society is mesmerized by the prevailing cultural narrative of perpetual material growth abetted by continuous technological progress.” 

In our culture, the vast majority has been trained to believe that the primary purpose of society is to pursue perpetual economic growth, to the highest degree possible, by any means necessary, at any cost.  This belief is passed, from one generation to the next, in every classroom, every day.  Accepted as certain truth, it arouses little controversy.  What is painfully absent is a competent understanding of the costs, the multitude of harmful unintended consequences.  Blinded by ignorance, this culture kills its grandchildren to feed its children.  We are the most highly educated generation that ever lived, and the most technologically advanced, the zenith of progress.

Rees wrote nothing I didn’t already know, but it’s so frustrating to wake up every morning on a planet that’s being obliterated by an epidemic of ignorance.  We’re not being pounded by a barrage of giant asteroids.  The fury is being driven by common beliefs and deep misconceptions.

The Rees paper triggered a flashback about Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany.  He gave his most famous speech on February 18, 1943, “Nation, Rise Up, and Let the Storm Break Loose.”  Hitler understood that in the industrial era, access to petroleum was a necessity for all powerful nations.  Germany had lost World War I, and then got slammed with costly reparation bills, and then got clobbered by the Great Depression of 1929.  Germans were not happy, they had no oil wells, and they were willing to listen to the creepy ideas of rowdy beer hall gangsters.

Fortunately, the Soviets had oil wells in the republic of Azerbaijan, the Baku fields.  Hitler wanted this oil province for his Christmas present.  Unfortunately, he got a terrible ass-whooping while trying to take Stalingrad (23 August 1942 – 2 February 1943), the biggest battle of World War II.  His armies were severely hammered, and his lucky streak came to an end.  The tide was turning.  Folks back in Germany were seriously bummed out by this crushing defeat, and their hopes and dreams were going up in smoke.  It was time for a pep talk, and Dr. Goebbels stepped up to the microphone.

Now, Joseph was an incredibly talented orator, and a masterfully manipulative control freak.  Comrades, we just learned an important lesson — it’s time to take this war far more seriously.  It’s time for total war.  He whipped the crowd into a frenzy.  The auditorium roared.  The whole crowd repeatedly shouted slogans in unison.  They leapt to their feet cheering.  It was an explosion of high voltage enthusiasm, pure fanaticism.

In 1943, there was no TV or internet.  Goebbels was the dictator of information.  Via radio, he delivered the daily news to 60 million Germans.  Nothing was printed, by any source, without his blessing.  American reporter John Gunther was able to provide an uncensored version of the Hitler drama for his readers at home:  “To millions of honest Germans he [Hitler] is sublime, a figure of adoration; he fills them with love, fear, and nationalist ecstasy.  To many other Germans he is meager and ridiculous — a charlatan, a lucky hysteric, and a lying demagogue.”

Gunther wrote, “Like that of all fanatics, his capacity for self-belief, his ability to delude himself, is enormous.”  “His lies have been notorious.”  “He has no great capacity for hard work.”  “He hates to make up his mind.”  “His orders are often vague and contradictory.”  “When his men fail him, he murders them.”  “The leaders, jealous of each other, and knowing Hitler the all-powerful arbiter of their destinies, compete with one another for his favor.”  “His brain is small and vulgar, limited, narrow, suspicious.”  “He talked himself to power.”  “Hitler… can arouse an audience, especially a big audience, to frenzy.”

Gunther also described Goebbels, who had zero tolerance for dissenting news.  “Control the press of a nation and half of the job of dictatorship is done.  Goebbels has given living strength to the authority of this maxim.  As supreme dictator of the printed word in the Third Reich, nothing may be published in Germany without his consent.  He is at liberty to censor even the words of fellow cabinet ministers.”  “No journalist may find employment in Germany till Dr. Goebbels certifies his acceptability; no newspaper may publish anything without his tacit consent.  Incidental result: 1,400 German newspapers, about one-third of the total number in the Reich, have perished since 1933.”

It was in 1933 when the Nazi party came into power with 37 percent of the vote, according to Gunther.  Voters did not choose Hitler to become the new Chancellor, instead he was (legally) appointed by the departing president, von Hindenburg.  Nor did voters approve the termination of the Weimar Republic, and the establishment of a one-party dictatorship, Nazi Germany.  The new logo was a swastika in a white circle on a red background.  Note that “Nazi” is a nickname for the National Socialist German Workers Party.  Socialists!  (Gasp!) 

Steven Bach wrote that less than a week after Hitler became Chancellor, publications by rival parties were banned, and they lost their right of assembly.  A few weeks later, an emergency decree was passed.  “Curbs on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press, of association, and of assembly, surveillance over letters, telegrams and telephone communications, searches of homes and confiscations of as well as restrictions on property, are hereby permissible beyond the limits hitherto established by law.”  Plans for the Dachau camp were soon announced.  By the end of 1933, fifty camps for “reeducating political prisoners” would be open. 

The Nazis encouraged the angry Aryan mob to hate designated scapegoats like Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political dissenters, and useless eaters (mentally ill, retarded, handicapped).  Today, the world is home to millions of scapegoats, in various regions, including political dissenters, investigative reporters, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, refugees, immigrants, indigenous people, and on and on. 

Today, populist loud mouths are popping up on every continent, like mushrooms after a fresh autumn shower.  While mainstream leaders do little about the Earth Crisis, beyond making lofty promises, the populists are working like crazy to demolish environmental protections, and accelerate the destruction.  The strains of ever-swelling population, the depletion of nonrenewable resources, and growing wealth inequality are making the mobs edgy and crabby, and I expect this to continue intensifying.  Nothing must interfere with economic growth.  Nothing!  The words of Goebbels and Gunther arouse a prickly sense of déjà vu.

The other night I grabbed Albert Speer’s book, Inside the Third Reich, and reread the final chapters.  Speer was Hitler’s architect in the early years, and later became the Minister of Armaments and War Production.  For twelve years he was in Hitler’s inner circle.  As I read Speer’s book, I was struck by the parallels between Nazis and today’s populist circuses.

In late March of 1945, just weeks before the fall of Berlin, Speer made a visit to the western front.  While German cities were rubble and ashes, the rural folks were in better shape.  Speer understood that the war was already lost, but in farm country, folks expressed continued faith in the war effort.  They believed that Hitler had a brilliant plan.  He was deliberately letting the enemy forces pour deep into Germany.  It was all a cunning trap.  Any day now, Hitler would unleash a new and terrible secret weapon.  The enemy would be crushed, and Hitler would claim the victory.  There were many people high in the Nazi government who believed this too.

Today, in our world, the total war against Big Mama Nature boldly charges forward, led by the holy banner of Economic Growth.  Propaganda ministers have instilled blind faith in our new secret weapons — solar panels, wind turbines, self-driving electric cars, artificial intelligence, sustainable development, metal drinking straws, and so on.  They tell us that we’ll be able to keep all our cool toys, without uncomfortable sacrifices, as we move beyond the primitive era of fossil energy, and continue our sacred journey to techno utopia.  And so, to contribute to the war effort, patriotic consumers must bravely shop till they drop.  Sieg heil!  (hail victory!)

Back to Speer.  In the last weeks of the war, as the enemy was closing in on both fronts, Hitler issued a series of decrees.  He ordered the destruction of his nation’s infrastructure.  This included the phone system, the telegraph system, the postal system, and radio broadcasting; electrical power, natural gas systems, oil and gasoline refineries, and water systems.  All ships and barges were to be sunk, specifically in ports and canals.  All locomotives, passenger cars, freight cars, roundhouses, and tracks.  All warehouses and industrial infrastructure.  All bridges were to be demolished, as well as dams, locks, and canal sluices.  All spare parts, wires, cables, cable diagrams, and descriptions of equipment were to be destroyed.  Coal mines were to be flooded, and their lift machinery destroyed.  All military equipment and weapons were to be trashed.

This plan freaked out Speer.  All the precious industrial infrastructure that he had struggled to preserve would be trashed.  At the end of the war, the German people would be in the Stone Age.  This was a death sentence.  He protested to Hitler.  Hitler didn’t care.  His plan was to evacuate the hundreds of thousands of German survivors by force, and burn down all buildings that remained standing — scorched earth.  If the war is lost, it will be because we were a weak people.  The future belongs to the strong.  Our survivors don’t matter.  “The good have already been killed.”  Many loyal regional leaders were willing to obey the orders of this decree.  Speer managed to convince many of them to preserve as much infrastructure as possible.

OK.  To put his in context, Hitler was just one nutjob, this Nazi story was about just one region, and their six year adventure in total war.  Today, every nation in the world has joined the Economic Growth cult, and its scorched earth mission.  Billions are fully committed to the war effort.  The destruction we now cause is vastly more than the World War II era.  With our computers, satellites, terrifying weapon systems, and enormous herd of consumers, we have never been closer to perfecting total war — and achieving a glorious victory.

Rees, William E., “Ecological economics for humanity’s plague phase,” Ecological Economics 169 (2020) 106519.  [LINK]  (Abstract only, full paper $$$)

Gunther, John, Inside Europe, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1938.

Speer, Albert, Inside the Third Reich, Macmillan, New York, 1970.

Bach, Steven, Leni: The Life and Works of Leni Riefenstahl, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2007.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Wild Free and Happy Sample 27

[Note: This is the twenty-seventh sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy.  I don’t plan on reviewing more books for a while.  My blog is home to reviews of 202 books, and you are very welcome to explore them.  The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews, if you are interested in specific authors, titles, or subjects.] 


Pigs are also known as hogs or swine.  The U.K. and U.S. have slightly different definitions of these terms.  For simplicity’s sake I’ll use pigs, and pigs will refer to both piglets and adults of both genders.  In different regions, over a million years or more, the pig family evolved into a variety of different species, including boars, bearded pigs, peccary, warthogs, and so on.  Today, there are a billion pigs on Earth.  The ancestors of domesticated pigs were wild boars, which once inhabited regions of Africa and Eurasia, from Ireland and India to Japan and Siberia.  In North and South America, none of the pig family species have been domesticated.  They remain wild and free. 

Wolves were attracted to human encampments by the enticing aroma of garbage and (remarkably delicious) human feces.  Over time, a portion of the curious but incautious critters lost their freedom and got reduced to dogs, critters unable to survive in the wild beyond the human sphere.  Similarly, some ancestors of wild pigs were lured into the domestication trap by a treasure chest of garbage, feces, and lush gardens.  The moral here is to always avoid human settlements, at any cost, no matter how wonderfully shitty they smell.  Danger!

Peter Wohlleben reported that the super intelligent wild boars remain alive and well in portions of Europe, where they have been labelled destructive pests.  German hunters kill 650,000 each year.  When the shooting starts, boars disappear during daylight hours, and become night critters.  Hunters are forbidden to use night vision devices.  When hunting season begins in France, the boars swim across the Rhône River to Switzerland, where hunting is banned.  As Winston Churchill once said, “Dogs look up to us, cats look down on us, but pigs treat us as equals.”

Wohlleben says that many folks would never consider eating ape flesh and, if we fully understood how intelligent pigs are, the notion of eating them would gross out those who are confused about the sacred dance (in the family of life, we all feed each other).  Domestication did not reduce pigs to slobbering dimwits, and some types remain capable of surviving in the wild.  Mud-covered pigs are like rich humans at luxurious health spas.  When the mud dries, fleas, ticks, and other parasites are baked into it.  Then, pigs rub on trees to discard the cruddy mud, and the annoying pests trapped in it. 

Cattle, sheep, goats, and horses are grassland creatures.  Pigs are not.  They prefer to reside in moist and shady places — temperate and tropical forests, close to water sources.  Unlike the other four, nomadic grassland people don’t keep them.  Enslaved pigs are usually kept by sedentary communities.  They can grow up to 770 pounds (350 kg), and have seven litters per year.  Piglets can grow rapidly when food is abundant.

John Reader noted that pigs are remarkably efficient at turning food into flesh.  Because their diet is more nutrient rich than mere greenery, they could convert 35% of what they ate into meat (sheep 13%, cattle 6.5%).  In ten months, the offspring of a pair of pigs can produce 3,200 pounds (1,451 kg) of meat — ten times more than cattle.

While cattle, sheep, goats, and horses are herbivores, pigs are omnivores.  Like stoned potheads with the munchies, pigs are not fussy eaters.  They will chow down on kitchen wastes, slaughterhouse wastes, spoiled spuds, ugly spuds, peelings, excrement, nuts, grains, roots, insects, leaves, fruits, flowers, fish, human corpses, and other carrion.  They have been known to bite, and sometimes kill children.

In many settlements, pigs were proud members of the department of public sanitation, along with rats and dogs, cleaning up crud in the streets discarded by untidy humans and other critters.  In regions of India and China, many pigs enjoyed rewarding careers in the sewage treatment profession.  Outhouses were often built above pig sties.  When steaming turds fell from the sky, pigs would scramble to gobble up the precious gifts from heaven.

For some mysterious reason, folks in the Middle East considered pigs to be unclean.  Both Hebrews and Muslims forbade touching or eating pigs.  Marvin Harris added that pigs provided no milk or wool, and they were not at all interested in being herded.  Pigs were not grass eaters, they ate the same foods that humans did.  Consequently, farmers and gardeners were not fond of them.  Also, hot sunny, arid lands (like the Middle East) were a poor habitat for pigs.  When air temps rise above 98°F (36°C), adult pigs exposed to direct sunlight can drop dead. 

Richard Lillard wrote about the early American colonies.  Many regions were forested, unsuitable for cattle, but heaven for pigs, who could keep themselves fat and happy via rooting and foraging.  For most early settlers, pork seemed like an exotic food, because in the old country, boars were kept in hunting preserves, for the hunting pleasure of wealthy aristocrats.  Bacon was for billionaires, high class lords and ladies.

Back country colonists enjoyed a grand life for a while, when the woods of Virginia and Maryland were swarming with pigs.  The porkers could run free without supervision, because they were fairly safe.  They were not easy prey for wolves or bears, although the alligators of Alabama were connoisseurs of plump, juicy, free range organic ham.  As long as you provided a source of salt, and tossed out some corn every day, the pigs would remain in the vicinity.  Humans were careful to mark which pigs belonged to them.

Pigs, of course, were delighted to raid gardens and crops, which totally pissed off the tillers and planters.  The dirty sweaty lads jumped up and down, yowling and bleating for compulsory fencing laws, but their pleas were ignored.  The majority loved having pigs, because raising them was much easier than the tedious drudgery of agriculture.  Ordinary folks could enjoy a leisurely way of life that provided a decent standard of living.

Simon Fairlie noted that huge numbers of pigs were born and fattened in the frontier forests, and every year their keepers would drive them down hog trails to big cities on the east coast, where they were traded for gold.  Pork was America’s favorite meat until the 1950s, when beef moved into the top position.  The first McDonalds restaurant opened in 1948, and soon became a sprawling empire, serving haute cuisine to America’s hungry, burger-loving billionaire aristocrats.

As I’m writing this, the news had a story about feral pigs, of which six million now inhabit 30 U.S. states, especially Texas.  They are descendants of the pigs brought by Spanish explorers centuries ago.  Feral pigs can grow up to 400 pounds (180kg).  Humans who grow things that pigs love to eat are shocked and infuriated when pigs happily drop by to enjoy the delicious gifts that were so kindly left for them.  The hotheads buy assault rifles and shoot lots of pigs.  Pigs are champions at rapid reproduction, and those that are shot are quickly replaced. 

They also have strong razor sharp tusks, which make cougars think twice about attacking them.  Of course predator eradication programs have sharply reduced the number of pork-loving carnivores that used to roam the land.  The news story was about a 59 year old woman who was recently killed by multiple feral pigs as she stepped out of her car at dawn.  She bled to death.  Attacks like this are extremely rare.

Jared Diamond wrote about the Norse colonization of Iceland a thousand years ago.  It became the most ecologically damaged nation in Europe.  Wildlife took a heavy beating.  Within a few decades of settlement, about 80 percent of the trees were whacked down.  Sheep and pigs foraged amidst the stumps, and prevented forest recovery by repeatedly nipping off the new seedlings.  When the highly erodible volcanic topsoil became more exposed to wind and water, half of it moved from dry land to the ocean, and green countrysides were reduced to deserts.  Today, only one percent of the forest still exists.


We’ve already met the huge, powerful, and fierce aurochs, the wild ancestors of cattle.  It’s hard to imagine how such mighty animals were reduced to cud chewing manure makers.  Obviously, the most aggressive bulls were put in the fast lane to the butcher’s chop shop, while those having milder manners were sent to bovine bordellos, where love starved cows eagerly enjoyed their deep affection.  Over the course of centuries, deliberately selecting the most passive bulls for breeding stock, generation after generation, gradually drove the aurochs spirit extinct.  Shamans call this soul loss (i.e., domestication).

Sandra Ingerman wrote that soul loss is a spiritual disease which, in advanced cases, can result in shadow beings who exhibit a “nobody is home” emptiness.  She says that most of us these days are not fully at home.  Jesus said, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  Indeed!

OK, back to cattle.  The quick and easy path to mild-mannered bulls was to fetch a sharp knife, relieve them of their testicles, and turn them into mellow, easygoing oxen.  In the early days, cattle were used for meat, milk, and hides.  Later, they became a source of muscle power — beasts of burden, and draft animals that pulled carts, chariots, plows, logs, and so on.

Folks eventually quit using oxen for muscle power when someone finally invented a contoured collar harness for horses that allowed them to pull serious loads without strangling themselves.  Horses required a richer diet, but they worked much faster than oxen.  So, farmers could plow larger fields, and fields that were farther from home.  Keith Thomas reported that it wasn’t until oxen were retired from muscle work that roast beef became the iconic centerpiece of English cuisine.  Until then, it wasn’t wise to eat your tractor.

Earlier, we looked at the prehistoric deforestation of Europe.  Actually deforestation was a global human enterprise.  In early times, we created manmade grasslands to attract large herbivores.  With the domestication of livestock, and the craziness of the agriculture fad, and the human population outburst, deforestation continued.  It’s happening right now, on a massive scale, as epidemic soul loss turns folks into weird critters obsessed with killing Big Mama Nature.  This is not a path with a future.

Years ago, I did some hiking in the hills above San Francisco Bay, where cattle were grazing.  Generally, the vegetation was kept neatly trimmed, and here and there were 100 year old oaks.  They dropped lots of acorns every fall, but there were few young oak trees, because their seedlings were routinely nipped off.  Originally, these hills were thriving oak savannahs, covered with a thick undergrowth of sagebrush and other shrubs, dotted with oaks of all ages.  [LOOK]

Especially in coastal regions, California Indians deliberately burned off the cover of dense sage scrub to create grasslands that attracted game.  Later, the Spanish and American colonists created more manmade grasslands for their livestock.  Once the brush was burned off, and cattle introduced, the oak savannah was doomed.  To add insult to injury, the exposed grassland became extremely vulnerable to troublesome immigrants, known as exotic invasive European weeds (more on these in a minute). 

Bison are also ruminants and, in the good old days, they were wild, free, and happy.  They were not the personal property of status seeking ranchers, consequently, for many thousands of years, they did not rubbish the western U.S. plains.  They did not fool around with fire, or create deserts.  Dan Flores mentioned that the bison herds were lovingly managed by family planning brigades called wolf packs.  They ate maybe four of every ten bison calves.  Wolves were dignified professional predators, not infantile status seekers, so they did not kill as many bison as possible, just enough to fill their growling tummies.  Enough is enough!  Status seeking is for dweebs and weenies. 

Western United States

When European colonists migrated into the western plains of the U.S., they found millions of buffalo that had beautifully coevolved with the ecosystem over millions of years.  The alien white lads came from a culture that had a long tradition of owning and exploiting domesticated livestock, which were imagined to be valuable commodities.  The more you owned, the cooler you were, and the higher your social status.  The settlers soon discovered that the large wild herbivores of the plains were too proud and intelligent to be domesticated and enslaved.  Dang!

The European culture was based on private property — owning land, homes, livestock, and so on.  By the nineteenth century, most of the vast forests of Europe had become cropland and pasture, and almost all large wild animals had been eliminated long ago.  Some survived as characters in fairy tales, where the roles for devious demonic bloodthirsty monsters were often assigned to big bad wolves.

The colonists were incapable of imagining the possibility of transforming into nomadic hunter-gatherers, and enjoying an exciting life of wild freedom.  They were, after all, civilized people, and their religious stories originated in an ancient Middle Eastern culture of herders and conquerors.  Buffalo simply did not fit in their self-centered fantasies of wealth and excess.  You cannot own what you can’t control.  Their hearts were broken when they realized that the continent they had stolen was not home to many millions of passive domesticated livestock that belonged to no one.  Well, they had a good cry, and then put on their thinking caps.

Rather than doing something sensible, like turning around, sailing back to the old country, where countless generations of their ancestors were buried, and spending the rest of their days in filthy cities roaring with deadly epidemic diseases and bloody religious fanaticism, they decided to stay, and rubbish the indigenous people, wildlife, and ecosystems.

Their brilliant plan was to import domesticated shorthorn cattle from northern Europe — purebred passive dimwits, ideal slaves.  They could raise huge herds and become extremely rich cattle barons with ghastly pretentious mansions.  Richard Manning wrote an excellent description of the comedy of errors that occurred in this grassland soap opera.  The healthy, functional wild ecosystem was a serious problem that needed to be fixed, because it was an obstacle to progress and a growing economy.

Well, there were some annoying challenges.  You see, buffalo could remain fat and happy on a diet that majored in grass.  By a lucky coincidence, the western plains produced an abundance of delicious and nutritious grass.  For example, the excellent blue bunch wheat grass remained a nutritious food source throughout the winter.  Unfortunately, cattle gobbled it all up prior to winter, leaving nothing for later.  Oops!  When this primo grass is overgrazed, it can take ten years to recover.

The digestive tracts of buffalo had been fine-tuned by evolution to process the native grasses, so they were 18 percent more efficient than cattle.  The fussy foreign cattle preferred a diet of leafy forbs (broad leafed flowering plants like alfalfa), which were scarce in their weird new habitat.  The frustrated hungry cattle were not impressed, and wanted to go back home on the next boat.  Request denied.

Buffalo were well adapted to the dry climate, and they could comfortably go for several days without needing a drink of water.  Their herds roamed across the land at something like a walking pace.  It wasn’t necessary for them to stick close to water, so they were able to wander and graze over a wide region.  They might not return to a location for several years.  The result was healthy grassland, healthy riparian areas, healthy herds of buffalo, and healthy tribes of Indians and wolves.

The prissy imported cattle, on the other hand, had evolved in a much moister climate, where it was far easier to find a drink whenever they got a bit thirsty.  Consequently, they tended to concentrate their grazing on locations closer water, unload tons of manure, overgraze, and mutilate the banks of the streams (riparian areas).  When riparian lands are undamaged, they can produce far more forage than can surrounding uplands — they are top quality places for indigenous herbivores.  On the other hand, when the vegetation is damaged, the soil dries out, and floods are more likely to carry it away.  Overgrazed land speeds rain runoff, which sometimes leads to spectacular flooding. 

The buffalo were well adapted to surviving in a region where the climate majored in blast freezer winters and scorching summers.  The cattle were adapted to living in a dainty moist climate with moderate summers and mild winters — an ecosystem strikingly different from the plains.  During the super-cold winters of 1885-86 and 1906-07, maybe 50 to 75 percent of the cattle on the high plains died — while the snow-frosted bison remained warm, well-fed, and secretly amused at the misfortune of the hapless illegal immigrants.

Well, the ambitious colonists had still another brilliant idea.  They decided to introduce traditional pasture plants from Europe, so their cash cows could get fatter faster.  Unfortunately, most of these exotic plants promptly keeled over and died, because they were equally unsuited for the plains.  So, the next brilliant solution was to import pasture plants from arid regions of Asia — a disastrous mistake that has caused irreversible damage.

Manning described some of the bummers.  Crested wheatgrass thrived on the plains, and it outcompeted and displaced native plants.  In the winter, this wonder grass retained little nutritional value, and so the mule deer, elk, and antelope starved in endless fields of grass. 

Spotted knapweed suppresses native grasses, and has now spread to 7 million acres (2.8 million ha) in 48 states.  Because of root secretions, most other plants can’t live close to it.  Sheep can eat it, but cattle eat bunchgrass instead, which encourages the knapweed to spread. 

Leafy spurge is now found in 26 states, where it has spread across 2.5 million acres (1 million ha).  It excels at outcompeting most other species, achieving communities that are almost monocultures.  Plants have extensive root systems, and can live for 40 years.  Spurge has a toxic sap.  Cattle will not graze near it, only sheep and goats can eat it.  The plant transforms lands into biological deserts, and it is extremely expensive to eradicate. 

Cheatgrass can survive in low quality soils, and in regions having minimal precipitation.  Only in the early spring does this grass provide significant nutrients to grazing animals.  For the rest of the year, it doesn’t, so animals can starve in a thriving grassland.  Cheatgrass is especially flammable, and it burns hot enough to roast the seeds of native plants, which it has now displaced across large areas.  After a cheatgrass fire, exposed soil is vulnerable to erosion and gullying.  Following a rain, the runoff can be rapid, leading to sudden floods.  Dan Flores wrote that in the U.S. mountain west, cheatgrass had turned 100 million acres (40 million ha) into a biological wasteland.

Eliminating invasive exotic vegetation is prohibitively expensive, and often essentially impossible.  Invasives are here to stay, and their plan is to spread.  Human intelligence remains an unfinished masterpiece.


Mark Brazil shared a story that was full of crap.  In Britain, cow manure was promptly and properly composted by patriotic royal dung beetles, which returned essential nutrients to the soil.  In Australia, none of the native dung beetles could get the least bit interested in cow shit.  It was too wet, and too out in the open.  Cow pies could patiently sit on the grass unmolested for four years, because nobody loved them.  This deeply hurt their feelings.  Adding insult to injury, Brook Jarvis noted that fussy cattle refused to graze in the vicinity of neglected pies, so the herd needed access to far more grazing land than normal.

Australian flies, on the other hand, discovered that cow pies made fabulous nurseries for their children.  Each pat could feed 3,000 maggots, which turned into flies — dense clouds of billions and billions of flies — which the hard working Christians did not in any way fancy.  Being outdoors was hellish.  In the 1960s, folks imported British dung beetles, which loved the taste and aroma of cow pies.  Oddly, this is one example where an introduced exotic species apparently didn’t create unintended consequences.  When they ran out of pies to eat, the beetles simply died.