Category Archives: Environmental politics

Books Environmental politics History Politics Women's history

Notes from Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present Day

Fascinating, broad-ranging study

p. 67 “Aristotle … the crucial contrast between ancient and modern here is one of approach, not invention, as the Politics expounds an essentially ‘open’ form of population thinking, which emerged from a world comprising a multiplicity of autonomous city-states of varying size and constitution, unlike the ‘closed’ model of the 19th-century European nation-state. Fertility and mortality, the two cornerstones of modern demography, play a minor role in Aristotle’s considerations because, for him, mobility and shifting patterns of membership were the main shapers of any community.”

p. 71 “Plato decreed that his ideal polis should contain 5,040 citizen farmers, male heads of landed households….Aristotle’s Politics … took exception to the size of Magneia’s population. The territory required to sustain such a multitude of people is impossibly vast, he alleged. But Aristotle’s objections .. were not just practical. A key point of his programme is that in measuring the greatness of a polis, biggest is not best. Greatness is about happiness and prosperity, which is produced by effectiveness, not numbers.”

Exhibit 3

“one of the most influential and enduring ideas in the history of generation and reproduction: that one’s birth circumstances can shape the course of one’s life. This powerful and alluring concept developed in Babylonia and eventually spread far across Eurasia thanks to influential proponents such as Ptolemy in the Roman Empire, al-Biruni in the medieval Islamic world and Sacrobosco in the Latin West .. Babylonian scholars began reading the gods’ intentions in the night sky in the third millennium BC. For around 2,000 years after that, celestial divination was exclusively a method for ruulers to check that their actions and intentions met with divine favour; the gods did not concern themselves with the fate of individuals. However, in 484BC, the Persian king Darius severed royal ties with the Babylonian intelligentsia after a political revolt, and scholars had to find new clients, new sources of income and prestige. Over the next few decades, a radical reconceptualization of the night sky took place that enabled individual destinies to be foretold. The two earliest extant horoscopes both date to 410BC, and by 400BC, give or take five years, the constellations on the eclipse – the path of the moon – had become 12 zodiacal signs of exactly equal sizes. They bear essentially the same names today as they did then.”

p. 253 In the era before the 19th-century rise of national statistics, we find a conception of population that was more attentive to the heterogeneity of sub-populations and its importance. Early modern population thinking did not standardize populations, nor pretend to treat them equally. Distinctive histories and political, cultural and religious differences were recognized to shape what numerical information should be collected, on which groups, and its interpretation. From the 16th or the early 19th century, balancing the heterogeneity of memberships making up the population of a state was a fundamental ground of the form and legitimacy of government, and of arguments for democracy…it reminds us of a fruitful way of thinking about aggregate properties of societies and states, different from the one we now take for granted. Its open, bottom-up reasoning about human numbers focused on how sub-populations are formed, sustained and compromised in relation to others and to wider forces.”

p. 321 “forceps, according to Aveling, prompted a sudden increase in man-midwifery, including lecture courses on obstetrics for male practitioners, lying-in hospitals staffed by men; and men attending route births. The boom was swiftly met by criticism, often centred on the threat to women’s modesty… upon closer examination cannot bear the full weight of the shift from female to male birth attendants. Sarah Stone, practicising in Bristol in the 1720s, complained about all the anatomically trained man-midwives in business. “For dissecting the Dead, and being just and tender to the Living, are vastly different.” The Chamberlens had no disciples in the city in this period, so forceps were not the reason that Bristol matrons started routinely hiring man-midives. Second, man-midwives did not always advocate the new technology.. Third .. the Camberlen family mobilized not one new technology, but three: the Vectis, the filley and the forceps… Wilson suggests that the most fundamental shift was not technological but mental: the idea that a surgeon had a role in the delivery of a living baby.”

p. 332 – suggests part of a shift of a number of professions from female to male, e.g. alewives, as economic opportunities developed and also “a somewhat peculiar version of a bigger project: the Enlightenment attempt to improve the life chances of mothers and babies.”

p. 345 “During the 18th-century debates about population, doctors, clergymen, mathematicians, government bureaucrats and others developed methods which drew on a wide range of public and private records to quantify features of populations. These numerical techniques were part of a general effort to ameliorate suffering and death, and they stimulated comparisons, which in turn contributed to the new statistical idea of population and the role of reproduction in determining its size. At the beginning of the 19th-century, in the wake of the French Revolution and Malthus’s Essay, governments began to institute civil registration of births, deaths and marriages, as well as regular census, thus providing more uniform and inclusive accounts of the national population.”

p. 633 “Often misread as a technological determinist who overstated the role of biological sex difference in her call for ‘control of human fertility’, Firestone is more accurately understood as a theorist of consciousness. Among the first to articulate the principle that reproduction is neither outside history nor inside the body, Ifrestone argued that the social organisation of reproduction, rather than biological destiny, determined not only female but human potential.”

p. 635 Far from becoming free individuals within a new economy of contractual labour, modern science and medicine reinforced women’s subjugation to a sexual division of labour allegedly based in natural fact. Activities which have never been inherently debilitating – pregnancy is not a disease, childcare can be shared and maternity if not incompatible with paid employment – were redefined for many (not all) modern women in terms of biological destin6y, thus justifying their sequestration as wives and mothers within the timeless sphere of domesticity.”

p. 637 “from a feminist point of view, the possibility of theorizing identity, status, classificatory systems, kinship, ritual, language and group organisation as social technologies offered the important possibility of accounting for reproductive causality by means other than physiology… social organisation not only plays a causal role in the determination of reproductive outcomes, but must be seen as constitutive of reproductivity itself.”

p. 350 “The story of the ‘nuptiality valve’ in western Europe before 1850 is now familiar, with a sizeable component of women’s reproductive capacity under-exploited or unexploited because of the relatively late age of marriage, and a significant number of women never marrying. It has frequently been asserted that this nuptiality pattern acted as a safety vale in the creation of demographic homeostasis… if mortality is assumed to have been unstable… nuptiality must e the principle ‘driver’ of fertility. France in the period c. 1650-1800 exemplifies such n interrelationship. A demographic equilibrium continually re-established itself, despite disturbances large initiated by epidemics… for much of the late 17th and 18th centuries, the number of hearths in the Paris basin barely changed at all… demographers use the concept of an agricultural holding or craft workshop as fulfilling a function analogous to that of a territory in a bird population in which a new breeding pair I allowed to establish itself only once a next is vacated”

Books Environmental politics History

Notes from Landskipping by Anna Pavord

p. 109 William Cobbett’s “reports of his Rural Rides started to appear in 1821, in the pages of his journal, the Political register… rode with the eyes of a yeoman farmer, constantly appraising the capabilities of the land he was passing through. He appreciated well-grown crops, well-tended orchards, properly managed flocks. He was fantastically energetic, endlessly curious, splenetic, endearing in his lack of self-doubt… If only farmers would do things his way, sow more swedes, and sow that seed in drills rather than broadcast, then agriculture in Britain might yet be saved. ‘Cobbett’s Quackeries’, his enemies called these obsessions – for American corn (the maize that is now widely grown by farmers for cattle doffer), for robina as a fast-growing fuel, for straw plaiting as a way of providing an income for countrywomen. Why should Leghorn bonnets make Italy rich, when plaiting straw for the bonnets could equally well be done here in England?”

p. 111 “It was because of this sympathy with the labourer (the Political Register had a circulation of c. 60,000, mostly among working men) that Cobbett always felt happiest in relatively sheltered, well-wooded country. He felt no connection with the high, open landscape of the Cotswolds.. going towards Cirencester in October 1821, he noted fields ‘fenced with stone, laid together in walls without mortar or earth … There is very little wood here. The labourers seem miserably poor….in the high chalk lands round Salisbury, where fuel had to be bought, he remembered the miserable sight of the poor taking turns to make a fire so that four or five kettles could be boiled on the one flame. ‘What a winter life must those lead, whose turn it is not to make the fire.’”

p. 112 “The kind of landscape he responds to manifests itself in Mr Sloper’s farm at West Woody in Hampshire: ‘large tracts of turnips; clean land; stubbles ploughed up early; ploughing with oxen; and a very large and singularly fine flock of sheep. Everything that you see, land, stock, implements, fences, buildings; all do credit to the owner; bespeak his sound judgement, his industry, and care.” Cobbett likes a landscape to be productive, shipshape. “

p. 117 “Riding back to London from Dover on 3 September 1823, he notes the wretched condition of the labourers in the district: “Invariably have I observed, that the richer the soil, and the more destitute the woods; that is to say, the more purely a corn country, the more miserable the labourers.. In this beautiful island, every inch of land is appropriated by the rich. No hedges, no ditches, no commons, no grassy lanes: a country divided into great farms; a few trees surround the great farm-house. All the rest is bare of trees; and the wretched labourer has not a stick of wood, and has no place for a pig or cow to graze, or even to lie down upon. The rabbit countries are the countries for labouring men. There the ground is not so valuable.”

Books Environmental politics History

Notes from A Rich and Fertile Land: A History of Food in America

p. 66 Many historians consider a smallbook of recipes published by Amelia Simmons in 1796 to be the first American cooker book because it contains American ingredients married to British culinary practices. Simmon’s recipes call for maize (still called Indian meal), pumpkins and cranberries among others. Thomas Hariot, John Smith and William Bradford among the earliest Englishmen in America would have readily taken to these dishes, but other early colonists did so only out of necessity. All spoke of the abundance of native American foods and how well people could fare upon them. Hariot declared that “Indian corn yields 100 London bushels while in England wheat yields 40 … Plus one man can in 24 hours of labor produce enough to last 12 months. .. once maize reached Europe it was destined to be food for poor backcountry folks and food animals.”

p. 67 “Nor was the corn produced in the same way as that used at least y Native peoples of New England. No patches were cut out of nutrient-rich forests, then left to fallow. Instead, corn came to be grown as a commoditized crop in larger cleared fields, sent to powered gristmills and then sold cheaply. Thus was a pattern set for America’s food and the way that it was and is produced.”

p. 239 The overwhelming majority of the millions who streamed into the United States between 1880 and 1920 came from eastern, southern, north and central Europe. Italians, mostly from south of Rome and Sicily, numbered more than 5 million. One-third returned after making enough money to purchase a farm or business back home; some of these food companies then shipped products such as olive oil to America. Two million Jews who fled pogroms and conscription in Russia, Poland, Ukraine and Messarabia found their way to America… some 1.5 million Norwegians, Swedes, Finns and Danes fled poverty and political difficulties to settle in the rural and urban upper Midwest. Greeks, mainly from the poorest upland regions of the Peloponnese, numbered about 400,000 in the same period… some traditional foodways remained within communities. Germans had the most powerful effect on American food from the mid-19th century, as in lager beer, sausage culture, bread, sauerkraut. But if it comes to numbers of dining places, then one might argue for Chinese. in the 21st century there are roughly 41,000 Chinese restaurants in America, a number far outstripping hamburger and mid-level restaurant chains. .. famous for two Americanized dishes, chop suey and chow mien… Around 1890 New Yorkers, especially the ‘Bohemian’ crowd seeking new taste sensations, began going to Chinatown for these bargain dishes. The same happened in other cities such as Chicago, where cheap Chinese eateries opened in the red light district for louche clientele.”


p. 300 Hamburger chains abound., not so with hot dogs. … perhaps it is that from their beginning as street food in the late 19th century, hot dogs have ramified into many regional and local styles, their differences celebrated by local communities and widely noted in the press… the food chain from animals to factory may be in the hands of a relatively few restaurant and processing companies, but absolute hegemony, not the cultural kind at least, does not work.”

Books Environmental politics

Notes from Being Ecological by Timothy Morton

p. 44 “something about the vagueness of kinda sorta finding yourself in the Anthropocene, which is the reason why the Sixth Mass Extinction event on planet Earth is now ongoing, something about that vagueness is in fact essential and intrinsic to the fact of being in such an age. This is like saying that jet lag tells you something rue about how things are…. Heidigger’s word … is vorhanden, which means present-at-hand. Normally things kind of disappear as you concentrate on your tasks. The light switch is just part of your daily routine… Things kind of disappear – they are merely there; they don’t stick out … less weird, less oppressively obvious versions of themselves. [jetlag] when you wake up, everything is back to normal, and that’s how things actually are; they are, as Heidegger says, zuhanden, ready-to-hand or handy. You have a grip on them.”

p. 66 agriculture “the inner logic of the smoothly functioning system – right up until the moment at which it wasn’t smoothly functioning, aka now – consists of logical axioms that have to do with survival no matter what. Existence no matter what. Existing overriding any quality of existing – human existing that is, and to hell with the lifeforms that aren’t our cattle (a term from which we get chattels, as in women in many forms of patriarchy, and the root of the word capital.) Existence above and beyond qualities. This supremacy of existing is a default ontology and a default utilitarianism, and before any of it was philosophically formalized, was built into social space, which now means pretty much the entire surface of the Earth. You can see it in the gigantic fields where automated farm equipment spins in its lonely efficient way. You can feel it in the field analogs such as huge meanihngless lawns, massive parking lots, supersized meals. You can sense it in the general feeling of numbness of shock that greets the fact of mass extinction. Quite a while ago humans severed their social, philosophical and psychic ties with nonhumans. We confront a blank-seeming wall in every dimension of our experience – social space, psychic space, philosophy space. Uncannily we begin to realise that we are somewhere. Not nowhere.. this feeling of openness, this uncanny sensation of finding ourselves somewhere and not recognising it, is exactly a glimpse of living less definitively, in a world comprised almost entirely not of ourselves.”

p. 96 “what’s wrong with most human-built space in what is called ‘civilisat8ion’, that it doesn’t accommodate the beings who are already here, walking around as strays or bursting through the cracks in the concrete. These nonhumans are like uninvited guests. With human uninvited guests, we follow rules of hospitality… but with nonhumans, what is the etiquette? Well, we are perhaps reaching the point where we might want to revisit our customs, our rules, and modify them to include at least some nonhumans.”

p. 98 “The whole isn’t greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, the whole is less than the sum of its parts … a much easier way of thinking. And it’s a much nicer way of thinking – nicer to the parts, which in our case, the ecological one, means nicer to polar bears and coral. .. we have simply been passing on the normal form of holism without thinking too much .. we can .. concentrate on just the super-being, the network that the things create, we can ignore extinction.”

p. 154 “Death is comfy, as Freud observed: the tension between a ting and the beings that veer around it is lowered to zero. A cell wall is ruptured and the cell’s inside’s spill out into its surroundings. A glass shatters and the difference between itself and the space around it collapses. It’s life that is disturbing and uncanny, all those energies flowing around, exchanges happening between the inside and the outside of an organism, exchanges between organisms, in every possible physical and metaphorical (and metaphysical) sense.”

p/ 155 “Bitter is a taste that infants have, without cultural training – they can all make the wincing face of tasting bitterness from birth. Bitter is a sign of poison … but if you avoid them altogether, you also get sick. Perhaps you choose to eat burgers because you don’t like that bitter taste. So you die more quickly of a heart attack or a stroke. Life is a balance between completely avoiding stuff and dosing yourself with stuff over and over again. … washing our hands with soap all the time, and nowadays with antibacterial soap – is precisely what brings on death in various ecological forms (such as upgraded superbugs).”

p. 186 “Plastic care, stripped down and efficient, is highly toxic, especially when you scale it up to Earth magnitude and operate like that for 12,500 years. What is required instead is playful care. This doesn’t mean care that is cynical … we need … a playful seriousness. This mode would have a slight smile on its face, knowing that all solutions are flawed in some way. Expanded care, care with the care/less halo, is more likely to include more lifeforms under its umbrella, because it is less focused on sheer survival.”

Books Environmental politics History London

Notes from Night Trains: The Rise and Fall of the Sleeper by Andrew Martin

p. 23 “I travelled on Eurostar on the second the day of its operation. It was November 1994.  I picked up a leaflet headlined ‘What Next’ which boasted ‘In early 1997 night trains will be introduced travelling from Scotland, the North West , South Wales and the West into Paris. .. Passengers can enjoy a good night’s rest in comfortable accommodation and arrive refreshed in the morning .. The Nightstar never materialised, although they were built, with both day and night carriages -and a new service depot at Manchester sprouted a billboard reading “LE Eurostar est icic”. But the business case was killed off by the budget airlines … The trains were eventually sold to Canada… their journey south would have taken them via Stratford in east London and the only reason Stratford station was built – and the reason it is called Stratford International – was to serve these trains.”

p. 75 In 2010 another sleeper train began running between Moscow and Nice via Warsaw. The Nice Express is operated by Russian Railways, RZD: it provides the longest continuous train journey available in Europe, and runs only in summer. The second longest is also provided by RZD; from Paris Gare de l’Est to Mscow, which runs all year round, and started in 2011. Russia has a broad gaueg and both trains switch gauges at Brest.

p. 134 “ On 4 October 1883, the first Express d’Orient – as the train was known until 1891, when its name was changed to the Orient Express, in acknowledgement that the British and Americans were its main customers – departed from Gare de l’Est (or the Gare de Strasbourg, as it was then known.) This very first trip was oner a special, provisional route. It went Strasbourg-Munich-Vienna-Budapest-Bucharest, then to Girgiu on the Danube in Romania. Passengers would cross the Danube by ferry to Rustchuk in Bulgaria, where they took a train to Varna on the Black Sea … from there they would begin a 14-hou voyage to Constantinople…the journey took 81 hours and 40 minutes eastbound and 77 hours 49 minutes the other way… The rail connection between Paris and Constantinople would not be completed until 1889.

p. 153 “Speaking at the Hay Festival in 2015, Jean Seaton, official historian of the BBC, said that George Howard, who was the BBC chairman from 1980 to 1983, had claimed expenses for using a prostitute on the Orient Express. The expense form was found in a safe by a newly appointed secretary. The previous incumbent, Jean Seaton said, had suffered a nervous breakdown, and he (this was a male secretary) had deliberately left the expenses form lying about as a warning that his successor ‘would have to deal with the chairman and he had to be managed around these young women’.”p. 195 The Sud Express “The service started by Nagelmackers in 1887, running from |Calais to Lisbon via Irun in northern Spain. .. Nagelmackers also inaugurated the Nord Express from St Petersburg in 1896 with the idea of connecting it to the Sud, the fulcrum being his home town of Liege, but the through link was never forged into one train, and the Russian Revolution, and the descent of the Iron Curtain, would kill the project.

Books Environmental politics History

Notes from Wonderland: A Year of Britain’s Wildlife, Day by Day by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss

p. 23 18 January “the hedgerows in local farmland golden in the afternoon sun. An idyllic rural scene perhaps, but things are not as they seem. .. each mawthorn and elder twig is barnacled with yellow lichen, related to the species twhose paintball splashes enliven old tiled roofs and add thousands to the value of country cottages. These are Xanthorias, and, in common with all lichens, are a symbiotic partnership between a fungus and an alga: the alga makes food from sunlight for the fungus, which provides the alga with a stable substrate. … Lichens are well known as pollution watchdogs. Many species are sensitive to sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere and so are scarce around heavy industry and in city centres. In recent years, cleaner air has brough many species back… But .. the yellow hedgerows… seem to be a sign of improved air, but are not. Xanthoria lichens are very tolerant of high levels of nitrogen dioxide, which derives partly from the nitrates used in agricultural fertilisers … a jaundiced view of an over-fertlised landscape.”

p. 62 18 Feb “Balloonwort is an annual liverwort, which is most conspicuous in winter. It grows on arable land that isn’t over-distrubed and which hasn’t been exposed to herbicide. For this reason, it’s now quite rare and mainly found in places such as market-gardens or the bulb fields of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly… Each plant was made up of hundreds of minute inflated pods, which protect the male and female liverwort’s sex organs. … in a few weeks, the plant’s tiny balloons would dry out and release their spores, unseen and largely unappreciated.”

p. 82 4 March “The mole … it’s thought there are about 30 million of them in Britain .. they did play a small but significant part in English history when in 1702 King William II (William of Orange) died following from a fall from his horse, which had stumbled into a mole barrow. His rivals, the Jacobites … reportedly toasted “the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat”.

p. 95 17 March ” “Oxfordshire isn’t alone. Adders have also gone from Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire and are on the very brink in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Greater London. In my own county of Worcestershire, they are disappearing so fast that even in their remaining hotspot they are in grave danger…Male adders emerge from hibernation in late February to soak up the sun’s rays and mature their sperm in preparation for mating in April and May. I’ve even seen them basking while snow was falling: their ability to harness the warmth of the sun is so well developed that they are the only European snake to live within the Arctic Circle… Human persecution is part of the problem, as is simplification of habitat: too much shading can force the snakes into less suitable areas and, because they hibernate communally, a forestry bulldozer can easily wipe out large elements of the population.”

p. 136 18 April

“out smallest terrestrial mammal, the pygmy shrew… while a blue tit has to eat about one-third of its body weight each day, the pygmy shrew must gorge on an astonishing one and a quarter times its own weight. If it fails to do so, every single day of its life, it will die.. can weigh as little as two and a half grams 0 less than a penny … long pointed snout typical of shrews, which it uses to sniff out prey such as beetles, woodlice and spiders… a tail that may be almost as long as its body… they have to use existing burrows, and hope that they don’t come across any of the permanent residents … typically live for just a few months, and rarely much longer than a year.”

p. 140 “Adult lampreys are indeed primitive creatures armed with large sucker mouths ringed with rasping teeth. Their lack of a jawbone, or indeed any bones – they are cartilaginous, like sharks – and the presence of a pineal eye on the top of their heads, which registers only light, has led from biologists to wonder if lampreys should be classified as fish at all… lampreys pre-date the dinosaurs by hundreds of millions of years, but are now in decline over much of the UK.”

p. 165 A friend of mine advises me to ‘never go on a picnic with an ecologist’ because all ecologists do is point out how good things used to be.”

p. 193 cuckoos’ decline “likely reason is the massive decline in the availability of the cuckoo chick’s main food, the caterpillars of our larger moths, which have suffered catastrophic declines in the south of Britain.”

p. 388 “the water shrew … nearly 2 million of them inhabit Scottish, English and Welsh, although not Irish, waterways … tail is fringed with stuff hairs, which act as a keel when it dives underwater and dog-paddles after invertebrates. To subdue its prey, it uses venom. Poisons in its saliva can affect the nervous system of creatures as big as frogs and shrew bite can cause a burning sensation on our own skin.”

p, 400 18 November “Lemon slugs .. a rich glowing canary yellow offset by delicate lilac grey tentacles…are secret connoisseurs of ancient woodland: that is woods that date back to 1600 or earlier in England and Wales and 1750 in Scotland… feed on forest fungi… but seem especially fond of those that match their colour such as ochre brittlegills or buttercaps.”