Less is More

Again the weather allowed me the opportunity to be out on my bike and in pleasant sunshine. Peddles turning at a constant cadence, I start to go into a Zen like state allowing me time for myself, free from all the distractions at home, my mind once more will dream old men’s dreams.

I first attended college when I was made unemployed by Maggie Thatcher, who has just closed all the heavy industry and coal mines in Scotland, destroying all the subsidiary companies that depended on them in their wake. At the Jobcentre, I was told that if I wished I could attend college 12 hours a week, free of charge and choose any subject I wished, a half-truth.  You had core subjects for 8 of those 12 hours. Writing a CV and writing letters to prospective employers, of which there were none or at least none for someone like me – over 50 years of age.

For the final 4 hours, we were taken into the refectory and tutors would come in and tell us they had one or possibly two places in their class, if you wished to take up the offer you simply stuck your hand up. Boy did these young girls catch on fast and it soon became clear that if I did not grab a spot soon I would miss out altogether. The last tutor in the door said he had two places in his class Desk Top Publishing. Now I had no idea what DTP was but up went my hand and I was in. it turned out to be the only class I really enjoyed. DTP set me on the course to University.

I was really too old to take up any serious employment when I finally left (my late start) now that may seem like a waste of my time and government money, but education, opened up a whole new world for me, I had learned how to learn. Alas being only a couple of years off retirement. The work I ended up doing for many years after that (by default) was as my mother’s carer, for which I was paid the princely sum of £45.00 per week. Oh, happy days.

I kept up my computer skills, mostly touch typing and since I was spending so much time at home decided to start up a part-time business vinyl ‘Sign Making’ – I bought some software, and spend months practising how to get the best from it before going to the expense of a vinyl cutter. All this could be done from home, I found it also amused mum, watching her child at play.

Now at that time in Bradford if you were not doing business with the local Pakistani businessmen, then you were not doing business. Try as I might, they did not understand the concept that ‘Less was more’

“You’re a chemist shop for goodness sake you do not have to list everything you sell on your sign, from medicines to sanitary towels, less is more. Make the important stuff stand out, not buried under a deluge of words.

In today’s society we imagine that technological innovation is the way to solve our problems, when we should be engaging in more imaginative thinking – social innovation too, why stop at CAPITALISM?

During the run-up to the Scottish Referendum on Independence, we in the Yes, camp dared to dream, the odds were stacked against us but we went out making the case for independence (stolen from us in the last weeks as it turned out). The excitement in the growing number of Yes, meetings, street stalls, marches was palpable, we moves a nation, we were willing to ask for MORE.

Surely we can imagine BIGGER than capitalism? No one has all the answers but with a little imagination, there is the possibility of an answer. There may be more.

Continuing with the status quo is a fantasy we must always ask for more. XR (Extinction Rebellion) is winning because people are finally willing to face their fears, and commit to doing something big about it. The XR are asking for less as more.

We need radical action – a revolution if you like – to transform the status quo rapidly, in ways that go beyond the capacity of normal politics. The post-coronavirus movement may be humanity’s last chance saloon, to create a far more equal and far more sustainable world.

I do not wish this to be all doom and gloom, but we must understand the motivation of XR to change the world order. For to ignore, is to not understand.

I wrote a piece about bird feeders some time back and the declining numbers of birds, especially the migratory birds to our shores. Much of this we believed was down to modern farming methods, spraying with insecticides killed off the insects that the birds fed on so their numbers declined, some close to extinction. But is this the whole story?

In 2018 I read a report in the Economist. A team of scientists published a study of insects in the El Yunque rainforest in Puerto Rico. This is about as far away from highways, factories or farmers and their insecticides as you can get. Still, the scientists found that the insect biomass had declined by up to 98% over a thirty-six year period, almost total collapse. The scientists could not believe their figures at first – in the 1970s, following the rains, butterflies were in abundance.

Hardly surprising that the collapse of the insect population had in turn triggered the decline of a wide range of species that rely on insects for food, what had caused such a catastrophe? The scientists had found that the Rainforests in Puerto Rico had warmed by 2 degrees Centigrade over pre-industrial levels, twice as much as the world average of one degree Centigrade. Two degrees is enough to push many tropical insects beyond their thermal limits.

The average global temperatures are up by one degree Centigrade, so far. The American entomologist David Wagner tells us that as we begin to approach two degrees Centigrade insect populations could start collapsing everywhere. These dying butterflies, in the El Yunque forest, he assured us, are the canaries in the coalmine.     

I have seen many changes in farming practices in this country, small fields bordered by hedgerows, crop rotation with fallow years where fields were turned over to pasture (rest years). Then came the bigger machinery onto the farms, hedges and trees were ripped out and large acres of land were planted out with single crop, sprayed with insecticides and herbicides, and harvested by large combined harvesters. We now live in a land of the ceaseless plough. They called it the Green Revolution. But, from the ecology perspective is was anything but Green. 

At the beginning of the year, I took it upon myself to plant some seeds and grow on some transplants for our garden here at City Park. When I turned over the ground for their planting, I was shocked not to find one single earthworm or creepy-crawly of any description. Light years away from my allotment, where the land was constantly being feed with animal manure (dung). My compost box, where the manure was stored was a perfect place for Mrs Snail to lay her eggs, which would later hatch and if not removed would devour my young vegetables, likewise, cabbage butterflies. The abundance of earthworms on the allotment brought Mrs Mole to bide and raise her family.  You have to be a bit tolerant if you have an allotment. But commercial farming is different, and why it is so destructive to the Earth.

According to the UN scientists, forty per cent of the planet’s soils are now seriously degraded. Agricultural soil is being lost more than one hundred times faster than it is being formed. On industrial farms, earthworms’ biomass had dropped by eighty-three per cent and as the earthworms die off the organic content of soils will collapse, and has, by more than half.  Continuing down this path the scientist warns and the Earth will only be able to support another sixty years of harvests.

I was a bit of a folkie in my younger days. Pete Seeger was a singer-songwriter wrote some great sing-along songs, that everyone joined in on the chores, one of these was “Windy old weather” and the fifth verse told us,

Up jumped the herring
Right under the lee
He sang drafting’s finished
Why bother? Catch me – in this windy old weather ………..

And not just drifting – like our lands, something similar is happening in our oceans. Recent figures show that around 85 per cent of global fish stocks are now depleted or facing collapse. Haddock has fallen to 1 per cent of their former volume; halibut, those magnificent giants of the sea, they too, are now an endangered species at one-fifth of one per cent. Fish catches are beginning to decline around the world, for the first time in recorded history. In Asia-pacific, fishery yields are on track to hit zero by 2048.

Like agriculture, aggressive overfishing is to blame. In Scotland, fishing is controlled by five corporations (a cartel) they turned fishing into an act of warfare using industrial mega trawlers. They have the latest state of the art underwater cameras to show them the shoals of fish and can remotely set the depth and size of the neck of their nets so that the whole shoal is captured in one foul swoop. They tell us the nets are sized to catch only the larger fish and the smaller fish escape. However, if you are a small fish swimming in the middle of the giant shoal, your chances of escaping to the edge are slim indeed. One catch is enough to fill the ship’s quota so it’s off home we go with a fine catch, the bank manager will be pleased.

The EU tried to limit catches, but in Shetland, they had a system of pipes, the EU quota went to the market – when the quota was filled they flicked a gate and the extra fish went off down the other tube and onto the black market, why return dead fish to the sea? (No one was jailed for the practice).

Others scrape the seafloor in their hunt for increasingly scarce fish, hauling up hundreds of species in order to catch the few that have ‘market value’ turning coral gardens and colourful ecosystems into lifeless plains in the process.

Then there are other forces at work too. Farming chemicals like nitrogen (made from nitric acid – made from ammonia) and phosphorous (made from sulphuric acid) and other fertilisers made from mixed acids. All these chemicals are flowing into the rivers and ending up in the sea, creating giant algae blooms that cut off oxygen to the ecosystems that lie beneath them. Vast ‘dead zones are found in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea. And I do not even have to mention plastic pollution, plastic had become more numerous in our seas than fish, yet the industry still churns out more and more of these plastics every day, and what’s the government’s answer to it all – put 10p on a plastic shopping bag. 

In 2019 the (IPBEA) published its first comprehensive report, a groundbreaking document compiled from over 15,000 studies from around the world. It said that the number of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians has dropped by more than half. A quarter of all species are now at risk of extinction, strong stuff from people that are not known for such strong language. 

A serious study of stuffy journals by Jason Hickel, found scientists describing the extinction crisis as ‘biological annihilation, and concluded that it represents a ‘frightening assault on the foundations of human civilisation. ‘Humanity will eventually pay a high price,’ the authors wrote, ‘for the decimation of the only assemblage of life that we know of in the universe.’ (extracts taken from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

I have seen this in my lifetime, yet up until a decade ago who was taking this seriously, ‘like Paddie’s shirt, it will all come out in the wash’ we are sleepwalking into mass extinction. 

I have no intention of writing a doomsday scenario but a blog on Hope. But hope alone is not enough we must first understand the problem before we can try to fix it. Some scientist’s worry we may not be able to hold temperature increases at two degrees as the Paris Agreement assumed. If we heat to two degrees, we might trigger a situation where the temperature spirals out of control and we would be powerless to respond. Keeping warming to more than 1.5 degrees Centigrade would mean cutting global emissions to zero much, much faster than anyone is presently planning for – in fact what followed in the wake of the Paris Agreement, is very little, the money promised still to be realised, as for cutting emissions, that was a pipe dream, pie in the sky, for it is being left to private companies, with private money, to come up with any solution.

I can only repeat the words of a teenager,

“We are at the beginning of mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of endless economic growth. How dare you!” Greta Thunberg.

And will COP (out) in Glasgow be any different, from Paris? Don’t hold your breath. The next COP (out) is not scheduled for another two-decade – by which time it will all be over bar the ‘blame game’.  

Stay safe.

2 thoughts on “Less is More

  1. Well you haven’t exactly cheered me up today Walter, but that was a dead on target dissection of what we are up against. I hope you are right, that peoe are waking up, that XR are winning. By the way, you should write your autobiography. We fight on my friend.


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