Category Archives: Environmental politics

Books Environmental politics History

Notes from: The great leveler : violence and the history of inequality from the Stone Age to the twenty-first century

I don’t agree with the book’s conclusions, but it assembles a great deal of interesting material.

p. 37 “A collaborative study of 21 small-scale societies at different levels of development – hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists, herders and farmers – and in different parts of the world identifies two crucial determinants of inequality: ownership rights in land and livestock and the ability to transmit wealth from one generation to the next. Researchers looked at three different types of wealth: embodied (mostly body strength and reproductive success), relational (exemplified by partners in labor) and material (household goods, land and livestock). In their sample, embodied endowments were the most important wealth category in foragers and horticulturalists, and material wealth was the least important one, whereas the opposite was true of herders and farmers… Transmissibility of wealth is another crucial variable. The degree of interngenerational wealth transmission was about twice as high for farmers and herders as for the others, and the material possessions available to them were much more suitable for transmission than were the assets of foragers and horticulturalists. These systematic difference exercise a strong influence on the inequality of life chances, measured in terms of the likelihood that a child of parents in the top composite wealth decile ends up in the same decile compared to that of a child of parents of the poorest decile. … even among the foragers and horticulturalists offspring of the top decile were at least three times as likely to reproduce this standing as those of the bottom decile were to ascend to it. For farmers, however, the odds were much better (about 11 times) and they were better still for herders (about 20 times)…according to this analysis, inequality and its persistence over time has been the result of a combination of three factors: the relative importance and characteristics of different classes of assets, how suitable they are for passing on to others, and actual rates of transmission. .. transmissibility is critical: if wealth is passed on between generations, random shocks related to health, parity and returns on capital and labour that create inequality will be preserved and accumulate over time instead of allowing distributional outcomes to regress to the mean.”

p. 39 Historically, inequality was sometimes slow to take off. Catal Hoyuk, a Neolithic proto-urban settlement in southwest Anatolia… is a striking example. Its several thousand inhabitants relied on a mixture of horticultural hoe-farming and herding. Land was abundant, and there are no clear signs of governmental structures r social stratification. Residents inhabited family households where they stored grain, fruit and nuts … Intact millstones and querns are unevenly distributed across dwellings, whereas households generally enjoyed broad access to cooking features and stone tools. Intact querns are predominately found in more elaborate buildings, but we cannot tell whether these represent higher status households or whether they merely hosted cooperative tasks related to food processing. The observation that most millstones and querns had deliberately been broken long before they would have worn out may speak against the first of these interpretations. This custom may even reflect a widespread though not universal injunctions against intergenerational transmission of these valuable assets: in later Mesopotamian societies, querns featured prominently among heritable wealth. It is possible that levelling measures were actively applied go curb wealth imbalances among households.

p. 40 Yes inequality increasingly became the norm. Archaeological evidence from Mesopotamia shows strong signs of stratification long before the first states were established in the region. In the village of Tell es-Sawwan on the Tigris, north of modern Baghdad, for example, a mud wall with a ditch that contained many sling missiles, all made of clay, points to violent conflict some 7,000 years ago, conditions that were conducive to the creation of centralised leadership and hierarchy. Some of the richest burials at this site are of children, reflecting status distinction based on family wealth rather than personal achievement. .. some time between 6,000 and 4,000BC all the basic ingredients of structural inequality were already in place”

“A cemetery at Varna by the Black Sea in what is now Bulgaria has yielded more than 200 occupied graves from the 5th millennium BC. One burial stands out, a middle=aged man laid to rest with no fewer than 990 gold objects … a third of all gold objects found at this site and a quarter of their total weight… more than half of the occupied graves contained some goods, but fewer than one in ten is rich in deposits, and only a handful contain a wide range of material. The Gini coefficient for the number of goods per grave varies from 0.61 to 0.77, depending on the period, but would be much higher if we could adjust for the distribution of value.”

p. 71 once Rome projected power well beyond the Italian peninsula and increasingly tapped into the resources of the Hellenistic kingdoms of the eastern Med. The size of aristocratic fortunes grew enormously…over the course of about five generations, the private wealth ceiling had risen by a factor of 40. .. inflation had been modest, and there is no sign that average per capita output or personal wealth among ordinary citizens had grown by more than a trivial fraction of the expansion experienced by upper-class fortunes.

p. 73 Where did all the additional resources come from? Economic development grounded in market relations certainly picked up in the later stages of the Republican period. The use of slaves in cash crop production and manufacturing, as well as rich archaeological evidence for the export of wine and olive oil, points to the success of Roman capital owners. Yet this was only part of the story … our sources emphasize the paramount significance of coercion as a source of top incomes and fortunes … at a time when annual interest rates of 6 per cent were common in Rome itself, wealthy Romans imposed rates of up to 48% on provincial cities, which were in desperate need of money to satisfy the demands of their governors.”

p. 75 Imperial unification and connectivity facilitated the expansion and concentration of personal wealth. Under Nero, six men were said to have owned ‘half’ the province of Africa (centred on modern Tunisia), albeit only until he seized their properties. While clearly hyperbolic, this claim need not have been dramatically far from the truth in a region where large estates could be described as rivalling city territories in size.”

p. 77 It is possible to quantify Roman imperial inequality at least in rough outlines. At the peak of its development in the mid-second century CE, an empire of some 70 million people generated an annual GDP of close to the equivalent of 50 million tonnes of what, or approaching 20 billion sesterces. The corresponding mean per capita GDP of $800 in 1990 International Dollars appears plausible in relation to other premodern economies… about 1.5 percent of all households captured between a sixth and close to a third of the total output.”

p. 78 A conservative range of assumptions points to an overall Gini coefficient of income in the low 0.4s for the empire as a whole … not far below the maximum that was actually achievable at that level of economic development, a feature shared by many other premodern societies.p. 81 “Inasmuch as inequality could be contained within intact imperial polities, it was by menas of violent recirculation of assets within the elite.. Mamluk Egypt, in which this principle plated out in maybe its purest historically documented form… Incessant jockeying for power within this class determined individual incomes, and violent conflict frequently altered these allocations” .. the mature Ottoman empire … officeholding was to be nonhereditary and officials’ assets were concerned prebendal, in effect appurtenances of services rather than private property. When they died, gains made during office were to be deducted from their estates and absorbed by the treasure. In practice, all their possessions might be ceased for the simple reason that officeholding and wealth were deemed indistinguishable. Confiscations at the time of death were complemented by the liquidation and expropriation of current officials who had attracted the sultan’s attention.”

p. 54 premodern societies … were about as unequal as they could be. Exceptions were rare, the only reasonably well documented case is that of classical Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, where direct democracy and a culture of military mass mobilization helped contain economic inequality. If modern estimates based on scant ancient evidence can be trusted, Athenian per capita GDP in the 330s BCE was relatively high for a premodern economy – maybe four to five times minimum physiological subsitence, similar to 15th-century Holland and 16th-centyury England – and the market income Gini coefficient reached around 0.38. By premodern standards, the implied extraction rate of about 49 percent was exceptionally modest.”

p. 146 “In World War I, the democracies of the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada were prepared to ‘soak the rich’, whereas more autocratic systems such as Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia preferred to borrow or print money to sustain their war effort. The latter, however, later paid a high price through hyperinflation and revolution, shocks that likewise compressed inequality.”

p. 147 “In the United Kingdom, top income tax rates rose from 6% to 30% during World War I, and a new war profits tax levied on companies – raised to 80% by 1917 – became the single most important tax in terms of revenue. .. the country lost 14.9% of its national wealth and it lost another 18.6% in World War II.. The share of the largest `% of fortunes in all private wealth contracted from 70 to 50% – less dramatic than the concurrent collapse from 60 to 30% in France, but nonetheless significant.”

p. 353 “land reform has a poor track record in alleviating inequality. A survey of 27 reforms during the second half of the 20th century shows that in a large majority of cases (21 or 78%) land inequality either remained largely unchanged or even grew over time. Cronyism might undermine peaceful land reform. .. in the Philippines even when a more serious attempt was made after 1988, results were modest, just as they had been in India, Pakistan and Indonesia. In Iran in the 1970s, although more sharecroppers obtained some land through compulsory sales of excess landlord holdings, favouritism coupled with compensation requirements and the lack of state support coupled with compensation requirements and the lack of state support, all of which advantaged better-off peasants.”

p 356 Genuinely peaceful reform often appears to have required some form of foreign control that checked the power of local elites. It worked in Puerto Rico in the late 1940s – and even there it was an outgrowth of equalizing reforms in the United States that had been driven by the Great Depression and World War II and coincided with top-down land reform in Hapan under American occupation. Colonial rule was also instrumental in Irish land reform. In the late 1870s, the so-called ‘Land War’ agitation for fair rents and tenant protections from evictions, involved organised resistance in the form of strikes and boycotts… The British Parliament addressed these grievances in a series of acts that regulated rents and provided for loans at fixed interest for tenants who wanted to purchase land from willing landlords. In 1903, the Wyndham Act finally bought peace as the government agreed to cover, out of state revenue, a 12% premium between compensation offered by tenants and the asking prices of landlords, thereby subsidizing the privatisation of smallholdings. This allowed smallholders to take control of more than half of all Irish farmland by the time of independence in the early 1920s.” (Barraclough, 1999, “Land reform in developing countries: the role of the state and other actors.” UNRISD Discussion Paper 101

p. 365 “scholarship on the relationship between democracy and inequality has long produced contradictory results. .. democracy does have a robust effect on tax revenue as a share of GDP. This suggests that democracy’s role in shaping the net distribution of resources is complex and heterogenous … Two reasons for this stand out: equalization can be impeded if democracy is ‘captured’ by powerful constituencies, and democratization provides opportunities for economic development that may by itself increase income inequality.”

p. 405 The last generation to have lived through the Great Compression is rapidly fading. .. As with people, so with levelling. In developed countries, the massive decline in inequality that commenced in 1914 has long run its course. For about a generation, give or take a decade, income disparities have been growing in all countries for which we have reliable data… inequality began to rise in 1973 in the United Kingdom, and in 1973 or 1976 in the United States, in 1977 in Ireland, in 1978 in Canada and in 1981 in Australia.

p. 410 “formally or effectively post-communist societies have witnessed enormous increases in material inequality. This development has been particularly dramatic in China, where the market income Gini more than doubled from 0.23 in 1984 to somewhere around 0.55 in 2014 and the corresponding measure of wealth concentration rapidly rose from 0.45 in 1995 into the 0.7s by the early 2010, and likewise in Russia, where the market income Gini has hovered above 0.5 since 2008, up from 0.37 in 1991”

Books Environmental politics History Politics

Notes from Growing A Revolution: Bringing Our Soils Back to Life

p. 27 “By my reckoning, we’ve already experienced four major revolutions in agriculture, albeit at different times in different regions. The first was the initial idea of cultivation and the subsequent introduction of the plow and animal labor. This allowed sedentary villages to coalesce and grow into city-states and eventually sprawling empires. he second began … as farmers adopted soil husbandry to improve their land. Chiefly, this meant rotating crops, intercropping with legumes … and adding manure to retain or enhance soil fertility. in Europe, this helped fuel changes in land tenure that pushed peasants into cities… Agriculture’s third revolution – mechanization and industrialization – upended such practices and ushered in dependence on cheap fossil fuels and fertilizer-intensive methods. Chemical fertilizers replaced organic matter-rich soil as the foundation of fertility. Although this increased crop yields from already degraded fields, it took more money and more capital to farm… The fourth revolution saw the technological advances behind what came to be known as the Green Revolution and biotechnology breakthroughs that boosted yields and consolidated corporate control of the food system through proprietary seeds, agrochemical products, and commodity crop distribution – the foundation of conventional agriculture today…. A recent study coauthored by hundreds of scientists from around the world concluded that modern agricultural practices must change again if society is to avoid calamitous food shortages …Those at the vanguard invoke a variety of names — agroecology, conservation agriculture, regenerative agriculture and the Brown Revolution…. the common ground they share in placing soil health at the heart of their practices.”

p. 35 Myth 1: Industrialised Agrochemical Agriculture Feeds the World Today According to the UN Food and Agrculture Organization, family farms produce 80% of the world’s food and almost three-quarters (72%) or farms worldwide are smaller than one hectare.

Myth 2: Industrialized Agrochemical Agriculture Is More Efficient Most industries have economies of scale that lower production costs per unit output for larger-volume operations. But efficiency can also be viewed in terms of input use per unit of production. An authoritative 1989 National Research Council study concluded that ‘well-managed alternative farming systems nearly always use less synthetic chemical pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics per unit of production than conventional farms.’.. Farms that grow a diversity of crops produce more food per hectare overall. “.. we burn ten calories of fuel to grow one edible calorie. Because of this, it has been said we are eating oil. But it would be more accurate to say we are eating natural gas. For industrial fertiliser production not only depends on the ready availability of cheap energy, it also consumes a lot of natural gas as feedstock… It is axiomatic that for any organism to be viable over the long run, it must get more energy from eating than it expends acquiring food. That modern societies don’t hold to this simple test of biotic viability should concern anyone with an interest in the future.”

p. 39 The GMO sidewhow “A 2016 report from the National Research Council Committee on Genetically Engineered Crops found that ‘nation-wide data on maize, cotton or soybeans in the United States do not show a significant signature of genetic engineering technology on the rate of yield increase”… overall pesticide use in the United States increased by about 7% as a result of adopting GM crops, according to a 2012 study”.

p. 46 “Roots are not simply straws. They are two-way streets through which carefully negotiated and orchestrated exchanges occur. Plants release into the soil a variety of carbon-rich molecules they make, and which can account for more than a third of their photosynthetic output. For the most part, these exudates consist of proteins and carbohydrates (sugars) that provide an attractive food source for soil microbes. In this manner, plant roots feed the fungi and bacteria that pull nutrients from the soil – from the crystalline structure of rock fragments and organic matter. .. with the help of soil-dwelling bacteria certain mycorrihizal fungi use their thread-thin root-like hyphae to seek out and scavenge particularly biologically valuable elements, like phosphorus, from rocks or decaying organic matter.”

p. 47 “rhizosphere-dwelling bacteria are most effective at promoting plant growth once a critical microbial density is reached, triggering a process known as quorum sensing. When enough individual bacteria of the right kind are present, they coordinate the release of compounds that aid in promoting plant growth. But if the population of soil microbes drops too low, they turn off the tap. … where are the most bacteria-eating protists and nematodes? Around the roots, where the bacteria are. .. after sacrophytic fungi and bacteria consume organic matter, they become enriched with nutrients. Predatory arthropods, nematodes and protozoa feast on them, then release those nutrients bac into the soil in plat-available forms. … rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and micronutrients, it makes excellent micromanure.”

p. 49 “even when standard soil chemistry tests say you need to add fertilizers, the right soil life – if present and abundant – may be able to supply what plants need. Growing evidence shows that synthetic fertilizers work like agricultural steroids, propping up short-term crop yields at the expense of long-term fertility and soil health.”

p. 57 Since colonial times, the average amount of soil carbon held in North American agricultural oils dropped from around 6% to below 3% .. by 1980 roughly a third of the carbon humanity had already added to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution came from plowing up the world’s soils, primarily in the Great Plains, Eastern Europe and China. Overapplication and overreliance on nitrogen fertilizers accelerated the loss of soil organic matter…. [which] feeds the microbial life that helps make and keep soils fertile”.

p. 81 Lal had worked on soil problems in 14 countries on four continents … his experiments all pointed to the value of ground cover and mulch for preventing destructive erosion and for keeping soils fertile… funders and aid agencies wanted breakthroughs and rapid revolutions, not gradual improvements of the soil. Commercial interests pushed to develop solutions that could be commodified: they wanted agrochemical products, not practices that anyone could adopt for free. No modern, forward-looking foundation or agency wanted to hear about mulching and growing a diversity of crops. Such simple answers did not – and still don’t – fit the technophilic narrative of progress.”

p. 83 “Globally conservation agriculture was practices on less than 3 million hectares in the early 1970s. By the early 1980s, it had more than doubled … and by 2003 it increased another twelvefold to 72 million hectares. By 2013, it had doubled again, to 157 million hecatres. And yet, despite the rapid pace of adoption, only about 11% of  global cropland is under conservation agriculture .. about 3/4 in the Americas… just a few percent of cropland in Europe, Asia and Africa.

p. 87 On the Great Plains undisturbed prairie … secret to productivity lay in a mix of warm- and cool-season grasses, legumes and members of the sunflower family.”

p. 105 “Consider the case of the western bean cutworm and corn earworm. A mother earworm feeds on pollen and lays her eggs on an ear of corn. Only one of her darling cannibalistic babies survives – the one that eats all of the others. When Pioneer, a subsidiary of DuPont, developed Bt corn that killed the corn earworm.. it created a golden opportunity for the western bean cutworm. [previously eaten by the earworms] .. the new technology to control one pest created a new, even more problematic one.”

p. 147 “Consider a direct side-by-side comparison of organic corn grown under a conventional plow-based system and his no-till system. In a field previously planted with hairy vetch, growing no-till corn took a total of just two passes of diesel-fed machinery: one to simultaneously roller-crimp the cover crop and plant the corn, and another at harvest time.. conventionally without a cover crop involved multiple lasses across the field to plow, disk, pack, plant, rotary-hoes, cultivate and finally harvest. The conventional plot produced 143 bushels per acre, the no-till 160.

p. 149 “The Rochdale Institute’s Farm Systems Trial is America’s longest-running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional farming…in addition to measuring crop yields, the standard measure of agronomic success, the study also tracked economic returns, energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil health. The organic systems consistently performed better by all measures, except for yield, which was comparable after an initial several-year period of lower corn yields in the organic plots. Averaged over the full duration of the trial, including the transition years wen organic plots went ‘cold turkey’ off chemicals, there were no statistical difference between organic and conventional yields…. but there was no initial loss in yield on the plots where the rotation started with soybeans.”

p. 159 glomalin … a protein that mycorrhizal fungi make in the walls of their hyphae and exude out into the soil … hyphae need it to work properly. .. it seems to ‘weather seal’ the porous walls of fungal hyphae, which are otherwise like pipes full of holes. The glomalin acts like a polymer coating, sealing leaks where necessary. This allows hyphe to transport material over long distances in the soil across pressure changes in pockets of air and water. Glomalin also helps aggregate the soil. It’s sticky, glue-like qualities bind small particles together. And its wax-like property that seals up hyphae makes some soil pores impermeable to water, but not to air.. stablises the passages through which water moves and can be stored… the physical structure of fertile soil depends on its biology. This is what conventional agroncomists missed.”

Books Environmental politics Politics

Notes from The Shock of the Anthropocene by Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz

Page 69 “Exaggerating a little, we could say that history for the anthropocenologists comes down in the end to the set of exponential graphs. The specificity of historical reasoning, the effort to construct an explanatory account, is eclipsed in favour of a descriptive and quantitative view. But it’s the concordant upward curves are indeed chronological indexes, they are explanatory at the secondary level. Environmental statistics simply measure the results of the historical phenomena that are the prime movers of the crisis. The less undifferentiated and more explanatory history of the Anthropocene that we propose in this book seeks to shift the focus of the study from the environments affected and the biogeochemical cycles disturbed on to the actors, institutions and decisions that have produced these effects.”

Page 73 “The grand narrative of the Anthropocene is thus the story of an awakening. There was a long moment of unawareness, from 1750 to the late 20th century, followed by a sudden arousal. … We can include in this binary narrative the overly simple thesis according to which modernity has established a great separation between nature and society, a separation that allegedly prevented us from becoming aware of ecological issues, and that was only challenged quite recently. As if the thinkers of antiquity have not already established distribution between nature and culture, whether to promote it or question its value and limitations; as if modernity, ever since the Renaissance, is not also constructed around knowledge that emphasized the belonging of human beings to the enveloping order of nature…. The problem with all of the grand narratives of awakening, revelation or arousal of consciousness is that they are historically wrong. The period 1770 and 1830 was marked on the contrary by a very acute awareness of the interactions between nature and society. Deforestation, for example, was conceived as the rupture of an organic link between woodland, human society and the global environment, and the use of coal was promoted as a way to restore forests. … An organicist scientific thought conceived the earth as a living things right to the mid 19th century. … By proposing in 1821 that ‘ it is therefore the planet as a whole that is compromised [ by deforestation and other environmental damages], and not just certain regions’ Charles Fourier reflected on a large number of scientific writings and warnings of his time.”

Page 101 “In Great Britain between 1800 and 2000 the price of light (measured in lumens) fell by a factor of 3000, but consumption increased 40000 times. According to goods and their price elasticity, the rebound effect varies, but on the whole, energy efficiency has been more than out balanced by economic growth.”

Page 103 “The crisis of the 1930s offers some interesting cases: Carbon emissions in the United States fell from 520 to 340 million tonnes, and in France from 66 to 55 million. In the latter case, this reduction was not just bound up with the recession, but also with the differential evolution of prices; that of coal rose by 40% during the crisis, while the general price index stagnating. It was also in the 1930s that wood fuel experienced a peak, before a definitive decline after the Second World War.”

page 105 Gaslighting which appeared in London in the 1810s was extraordinarily inefficient. “It consisted in distilling coal – using more coal to heat this – in order to produce a gas designed to light housing or streets. … A third of the coal was burnt to produce gas, a third of this gas escaped in pipes that massively leaked, and at the end of the day the lie to each day was very poor…. The transition from oil lamps to gas lighting, that is, from an organic and locally applied energy to a fossil energy distribution over a network, while massively increasing energy consumption, above all increased the losses.”

“The ‘ energy consumed per capita’ traced by historians actually corresponds to national production of energy divided by population. It includes example with the energy spent on waging wars, running the navy and controlling the empire, as well as the energy dissipated in inefficient technological systems. What we lack is a history of energy services, which would show the energy actually used by different classes of consumers.”

Page 107 “The ecologists David and Marcia Pimentel, for example, showed that the transition from a traditional agriculture to an intensive and mechanised one led to a fall in energy yield: More calories (basically derived from oil) had to be used in order to produce each calorie of food. In the case of maize, the shift was from a ratio of 10 calories produced for each calorie invested to a ratio of only three to one. The generalisation of this type of analysis, that is, a general history of thermodynamic (in)efficiency (taking up Ivan Illich’s thesis of counter-productivity) would undoubtedly lead to a far more ambiguous account than that conveyed by energy history and its ascendant curves of energy, health and efficiency.”

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Books Environmental politics Politics

From After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene by Jedediah Purdy

p. 16 “we have not advanced far towards Mill’s ideal of emancipated mastery over nature. Instead, the more we understand and the more our power increases, the more our control over nature seems a precarious fantasy.”

p. 17 The Anthropocene begins amid a threefold crisis  of ecology, economics, and politics. These are the three great modes in which humans make a home… The three crises share a starting point: the recognition that a system believed, or at least imagined and hoped, to be stable and self-correcting has turned out to be unstable and even prone to collapse.”

p. 18 “If we want self-sustaining world, social & natural, we must build it. Nothing inherent will produce that stability”

p. 18 “Th economists’ term ‘externality’ suggests an aberration, the incidental exception to a system that otherwise works – but here, that is the reverse of the truth. What economic analysis treats as an externality, what is invisible in market transactions, is the globe that houses all economic activity. Needless to say, everything is inside that ‘externality’. The harms that are invisible to the economy may overwhelm the system itself.”

p. 90 Thomas Paine saw the natural world as grounding a principle of economic equality. ‘Natural property was the inborn right of every person to an equal share of the unimproved world, which was the common inheritance of humanity, now artificially divided into private property. Paine’s ‘Letter on Agrarian Justice’ argued for a tax on wealth that would amount to ‘ground-rent’ paid to society by those who owned  the world, to compensate the dispossesed. The money should go to universal benefits: a payment to each person at birth, as a king of social inheritance to start them in life, plus pensions for the aged. Paine argued that this scheme would make the artificial institution of private property beneficial to all, whereas without his reforms it preserved both wealth and great poverty.”

p. 118 The Sierra Club’s “ideal was the personal encounter with nature … even as its activity was intensely social, even communal, to the point where one member described its encampments (with only the lightest irony) as short-lived socialist utopias. Club members relied on one another for comfort, survival and companionship in the high country. Even more, they relied on one another to confirm and amplify their quasi-mystical experience by hearing it and saying it back to them.”

p. 119 Thoreau reviewed a book that proposed a technological utopia. The work, by J.A. Etzler, was The Paradise Within the Reach of All Men, without Labor, by Means of Nature and Machinery, published in 1842. Etzler, a follower of the French social visionary Charles Fourier, argued that men could build a paradise on earth (and, he promised, within a decade) by harnessing what the 21st century calls renewable energy. Wind, tides, and the sun would replace human labor. … Thoreau agreed with Etzler that unused energy was plentiful:air surged and plunged over the earth: New England’s few windmills were a farcical tribute to its power. The waves and tides were even stronger, and the sun’s vast energy promised limitless power, if only people could capture it.”

p. 171 Gifford Pinchot “called on Americans to  ‘ make ourselves… responsible for [the country’s] future’. Conservation’s basic goal was well-being: it aimed to make ‘the difference between prosperity and poverty, health and sickness, ignorance and education, well-being and misery.’ Conservation’s success would be ‘patriotism in action’… conservation should teach each citizen devotion to the good of all.”

p. 195 John Muir “is probably best remembers for observing that one cannot tug on anything in nature without finding it connected to everything else -a folksy slogan of interdependence… part of a usable history for the age of ecology. .. We can love the world because it is intelligible, formed in an order that we can understand ever more richly. At the same time, it awes us because it is always older, stranger and more complex than we can grasp: in every dimension, it runs beyond our reach. … This was the new, ecological shape that wilderness advocates gave to the Romantic tradition of treating the politics of nature as the politics of consciousness. .. humility invited a homecoming – not to the sublime mountains, as Muir had urged, but to a sense of being entirely native to the planet at large. … Americans concerned with the natural world did nothing less in those years than invent something we now take for granted: the concept of the environment. .. In 1968, an urgent warning appeared in Time magazine: ‘The false assumption that nature exists only to serve man is at the root of an ecological crisis that ranges from the lowly litterbug to the lunacy of nuclear proliferation. At this hour, man’s only choice is to live in harmony with nature, not to conquer it.”

p. 109 “the seminal environmental standing case, Sierra Club v Morton. Here the Supreme Court considered whether the Sierra Club could sue to oppose development in California’s Mineral King Valley, and ruled that the group had standing to appear in court only if at least one of its members used the disputed area and would be personally affected by the proposed development. The case is most famous, though, for Justive William O Douglas’s animist-toned dissent, which adopted the language and spirit of proposals to recognise natural entities as legal actors. ‘The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it .. The voice of the inanimate object, therefore, should not be stilled.'”

p. 231 “as the Romantic strain of environmental imagination took hold, farmers, who animated James Wilson’s flourish American landscape, became figures of plodding, spiritless labor instead. Thoreau portrayed his neihgbors as slaves to their land, labors and conventional ideas. Emerson complained that he could not enjoy contemplating a landscape when farmers were working on it …Today a new appreciation is emerging for worked and inhabited landscapes, fertile terrains for responsible labor. This is the landscape of what one might call the food movement. It is not providential but ecological. Working  there converts ecological consciousness into concrete activity, as surely as John Muir’s walking guides did for Romantic ways of seeing. .. the physical labor of growing, gathering, and cooking food is a source of satisfaction, enriched by knowledge of the ecological, chemical and other processes that the work engages… As a cultural matter, the food movement offers a way to make abstract ecological values concretely one’s own. It poses an answer to a puzzle of post-1970 environmental thought, a puzzle presented in any effort to think ecologically. An environmental ethic that people can live by must tap into basic motives” Can either be done by tapping existing values e.g. patriotism with Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinochet, or a new identity – the settler ethic and the wild-lands pilgrimage of the Sierra Club.

p. 237-8 “Ecology is the only possible home for an economy .. neoliberal environmentalists today portray the world as ‘natural capital’ … it brings nature fully into political economy, but a specifically neoliberal political economy, committed to the perspective of capital… An alternative would be to think of nature not as providing capital but doing work, work in which human labor collaborates… work is not only industry, the prodictive  action that that transforms the world, but also reproduction, the work of remaking life with each year and generation . Seeing nature’s work in this light would align environmental politics with the key feminist insight that much socially necessary work is ignored or devalued as ‘caregiving’, a gendered afterthought to the real dynamos of the economy, when in reality no shared life could do without it. This approach would also have the potential to align environmental politics with a labor movement of caregivers i an economy where an increasing amount of the work done by human beings (rather than machines) is the work of social reproduction: nursing, teaching, parenting.”

p. 253 “One might imagine, then, learning to see the global atmospheric system, the interwoven patterns of currents and winds, seasons and climatic regions, as something beautiful. It makes a world suited for human life, a world in which we have learned to live… The question to ask about greenhouse gases, in this light … is …whether they tend to mar the beauty of a system that, for all its inherent perturbations, describes a set of rough balances that we have come to find beautiful. Alternatively but not incompatibly, the global atmosphere might come to seem sublime, a brooding, powerful source of threat, beyond our complete understanding, out of the scale of our control, able to disrupt familiar worlds and make us aware of human smallness and fragility… Both treasuring beauty and feeling awe at sublimity are ways of respecting an order of things, and of valuing motives to act so as to uphold it.”

p. 286 “taking responsibility for nature and taking responsibility for democracy come together. The democratic responsibility is the responsibility of making a world, a responsibility that for much of human experience has fallen to the imagined legislation of gods. This goes for both the political and the natural world. Always bound together in imagination, in the Anthropocene these two are inseparable in fact.”

p. 287 democracy is not just the stripping away of old hierarchies; it means making the world together, including taking responsibility for our mutually shaping interaction with nature.”

Books Environmental politics History

Notes from Of Farming and Classics: A Memoir by David Grene

p. 137 “This first farm of mine, the American one, was a splendid blend of mechanisation and old-time farming. I really cannot see why a version of this could not actually have survived. What happened is something like this: At the end of the war, the factories which had during the war exclusively been busy producing machines for the army turned back to producing tractors. They decided that the market to attack first was the area still occupied by small farms. … the farmers’ horses were in direct competition for the provision of power. So from about 1947 to 1955 advertisements and personal agents worked at selling the tractor-cum-horse farmers a little light tractor, to supplement his heavy one, to do the corn planting, corn cultivation and hay work instead of the last team These small tractors cost eight to ten times more than a team of horses and at least as much to keep up as a team…. The older horse machines were relatively cheap and simple … no tools left to use animal power.”

p. 139 “In the modern climate of opinion, where there is a strong undercurrent asserting the dullness and monotony of agriculture, there are always many people who readily accept the industrial idea that the less help needed, the better… there are fewer and fewer farmers themselves, and those who are left are forced to farm at a speed and a tension which leaves any hardship of the past simply nowhere… There have been almost no forum in which abstract questions could be raised about the value of the farmer’s work to himself… There are very good reasons for a smaller size of farm and the deeper personal attitudes that it invites. We have also seen in the 1980s a fearful decimation of farms simply because the price of land suddenly declined; and so did the farmers’ security with banks, who promptly foreclosed on them for debts incurred in the expansion of acreage and machinery, which, now on the books, they were unable to pay when the security was called in.”

p. 146 “Still the rhetoric continues, enforcing the conviction, now almost always acquired at second hand, that oil has saved them from drudgery. As though driving work animals was drudgery and driving the tractor was not; and caring for animals after the workday was drudgery, but filling the tractor or repairing it was not. Hobbies, sport and pets are of course the preferred forms of spending one’s activity and gaining pleasure. The delight in plowing and the partnership with animals in it is as old as Hesoid as he gives direction for the strength of the tree-formed plow ready to resist the power of the oxen as they struggle with a hard spot in the furrow, or in Aeschylus’s Prometheus, who gave man work-animals to be his substitute in the heaviest toils. It is there in Brueghel’s picture of the fall of Icarus as the plowman follows his mule with the little wheel in the plow in front of him already invented to hold the plow effortlessly in place at the depth desired. .. I remember about 35 years ago in Normandy watching a boy plowing with his black Pecherons, and walking alongside the horses that did not even have a rein. They were tied from bit to bit with a loose rope on the inside trace horse, which was used only when the boy was going to lead them home. When they came to the end of the furrow, he would tip up the plow … shout firm commands to his team, and round the horses would go….The beauty of those days of plowing was startling. I am thinking now particularly of the Wicklow farm. Out plowing was usually done in March or April, though sometimes also in fall or late winter, when the ground was not hard hard frozen. In a typically early spring day, one walked just fast enough to keep warm, and the gulls and rooks followed in the furrow to pick up the worms., and the sun would come breaking up the little touch of hoarfrost. I can still relive it and delight sharply, almost with pain at its loss, for I will never enjoy it again.”

Books Environmental politics Politics

Notes from Edward Carpenter: a life of liberty and love by Sheila Rowbotham

p. 96 “Henry Salt was one of the first who tried to live out Carpenter’s ideas about the simple life. Inspired by Carpenter’s account of Millthorpe, he left his job at Eton and went with his wife Kate to live in the Surrey village of Tilford. Salt would later explain that to social movements had attracted those like himself who were breaking away from bourgeois backgrounds in the 1880s. “Socialism, the more equitable distribution of wealth, and simplification, the saner method of living.”… He had studied at Cambridge, where Jim Joynes had encouraged him to rebel against the inner sinews of class privilege. Salt, like Joynes, decided that it was wrong to live off the labour of others and to eat animals. Accordingly, in 1884 he went to the headmaster, Dr Edmund Warre, to hand in his resignation from Eton, declaring he was a vegetarian, had lost his faith in the public school system and had become socialist. Horrified by this roll call of apostasies, Warre exploded, “then blow us up, blow us up! There is nothing left for it but that.”… Salt was soon in conflict with the Socialist league newspaper, Commonweal, which declared vegetarianism was an employers’ plot to force workers to accept a lower standard of living…. Henry and Kate Salt’s move, accompanied by books and piano, to a labourer’s cottage at Tilford hardly seems remarkable today, but it caused a minor media stir in 1884, after Hyndman announced a public meeting that Salt had left Eton. Resolutely Salt cupped his academic down into strips of fastening creepers to walls and used his top hat the shading a young vegetable marrow.”
p. 111 “Carpenter and Hukin experienced the heady joy of working together filled with hope in a cause that seems indubitable. Through the summer and autumn of 1886 mounting unemployment and the acute distress it brought with it were gaining an audience for the socialists’ street meetings. Carpenter fulminated against landlords and railway shareholders (like himself) who collected millions to doing nothing. … They began to attract crowds of around 2 to 300 people, competing with the Salvation Army and barrel organ men at the corner of Fargate and Surrey Street. When the police tried to close them down, the excitement which ensued added to the audience. Jonathan Taylor, wily in local politics, began an outraged letter writing campaign presenting himself as a member of the public, upset at the curtailing of free speech. By September their listeners were reaching 4 to 500. Having your own premises signaled that you had arrived on the local political scene. In February 1887 when the new premises in Scotland Street formally opened as the Commonwealth cafe, the sympathetic Sheffield Weekly Echo reported that the Sheffield socialists, who, “some little time back… might have been counted on the fingers”, now not only had their own hall, but could filll it to overflowing, while the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent noted that there were even a few ladies in the audience, though it derided their shrill ‘hear hears’. The ethos was open and eclectic. The unemployed will welcome along with speakers of varying political hues: William Morris, Annie Besant and Havelock Ellis from the London socialist mileau, Peter Kropotkin and Charlotte Wilson from the anarchist.”
p. 112 “Socialism was not merely a movement for industrial emancipation, it “aimed at the entire regeneration of society in art, in science, in religion and literature and the building up of the new life in which industrial socialism was the foundation”. William Morris to concede Socialism is a new culture, worrying away over how the discontent of the unemployed could transmute into the birth of a new society, though Carpenter put greater stress on creating a new way of living and stimulating new desires.”
p. 135 “the new unions proved difficult to sustain institutionally, a weakness exacerbated in Sheffield by the anarchists’ resolve to form exclusively revolutionary unions. … Local labour conditions resulted in new Unionism being rather a damp squib. In the late 1880s the labour movement in Sheffield still consisted of the grinders, forges, hardeners and cutters of the metal trades, along with bricklayers, masons, tailors and printers. The small craft societies that represented them responded to threats of mechanisation not by creating a new trades unionism that by amalgamating…. It was not until the 1890s that the trades union movement established a permanent base in the large steel works then developing as arms producers.

p. 147 “the book… Undermined assumptions about science and indeed the very processes of knowing. Carpenter contested the negative view of health in Western medicine. Instead of a narrow definition of health is the absence of disease, he invoked old words which embraced body, mind and spirit; heal, hallow, hale, whole, wholesome, adding the Sanskrit ‘atman, breath or soul for good measure… Carpenter challenged sciences claims to be value-free. He was as interestingly in mathematics and the physical sciences as he had been when he was young, it was the overweening authority of science he disliked Carpenter argued that scientific work was framed by the assumptions of particular cultures and epochs and that the scientist did not stand outside the object of study in either the physical or the social sciences. Consequently “science” did not offer in itself proof, and the findings of scientists will always open to question.”
p. S63 1890 “the small band of anarchists hurtled through that summer and autumn in a flurry of defiance. In June, when the idolised explorer Henry Morton Stanley came to speak in Sheffield, Creaghe and John Bingham took gallery seats and sold a pamphlet … Documenting the Africans Stanley had killed in the course of his explorations. Commonweal frankly announced how Stanley’s exploits, or, civilising Africa had “sold like hot cakes” because the audience, not seeing the irony in the title, had believed it to be praising the explorer.”
p. 170 “Carpenter now had an established lecturing circuit, speaking not only in Sheffield, Rotherham and Chesterfield, that extending outwards to west Yorkshire and Lancashire, along with Nottingham and Derby. He was also frequently in Bristol and London and did tours of Scotland. Completely eclectic in accepting invitations, in 1893 he addressed the social Democratic Federation in London, as well as the Fabians and the Liberal club in Sheffield. Not only did he range widely, he could gather huge crowds of around 1000 people some of these meetings. Carpenter continued his university extension habit of having a basic stash of lectures which he recycled in differing places. In the first half of the 1890s these were: the future society, parties and the labour movement, the way out, the changed ideal society, the future of labour…. Carpenter really grappled in these lectures with how to reach the utopian future, searching for an alternative to both the state and the self-defeating defiance of the anarchists to he noted “tear their hair at one”.
p. 307 “he called the state ownership of the mines and the milk supply, approving public administration of gas, water and transport. But he remained uneasy about relying on state interference, voicing his fears in talks with the Fabians in Sheffield, the social Democrats in Chesterfield, and Didsbury Socialists society in Manchester over the course of 1908. … His political libertarianism led him to suspect the state as inherently coercive and he looked around for voluntary social alternative is which could foster opposing collective values to capitalism. Land nationalisation, labour colonies and cooperatives were all being mooted in the early 1900, while groups of unemployed men had resorted to direct action and were farming orchard land… Inspired by experimental projects in Europe, Carpenter proposed corporative smallholdings in property of agricultural associations … Carpenter envisaged the rural economy transformed by corporative banks, along with a network of corporative is that in collecting, the buying of foodstuffs and selling products. Though Carpenter accepted that land should be publicly owned, both nationally and by local authorities, he wanted state ownership to be combined with cooperative ventures and private smallholdings. This was partly because of his dislike state intervention and also because he was convinced, like Kropotkin, that smallholdings encouraged enterprise, attention to detail and all-round skills.

p. 311 “Carpenter’s life at Millthorpe had taught him that change had to be acceptable to local people and this meant it must grow out of existing roots…. He imagined afforestation schemes and proposed that the wild moors and mountains should be preserved by county councils or by the state is animal and bird sanctuaries, nature reserves where everyone could wander. His campaigns against Sheffield’s smoke pall had brought home damaging impact the city could have on the countryside and led him to think up positive ways in which people from the towns and cities could relate to the countryside. … Carpenter’s ideas resonated both among those concerned to conserve the countryside and those who wanted to foster a better relationship between town and country. However these diverging lobbies did not automatically recognise a common cause. Conservationists were not necessarily sympathetic to working class ramblers … Vegetarians were not all socialists and many socialists scoffed at them and at antivivisectionists.”