News Flash: Everything Stays the Same When People Do Nothing!

Tonight I feel a bit of what it must have felt like to be an American in 2004 when George Bush got “elected” again.  Final results aren’t in yet, but it looks like four more years of Gordon Campbell and the BC Liberals, which means four more years of privatization, child poverty, police violence, and corruption for the province of BC.

Just like Bush, Campbell has used highly funded media campaigns to create a world of imaginary dangers and then convince people who aren’t used to critical thinking that he is the man that can protect them from it.  In Bush’s case, it was “THE TERRORISTS!”  Who exactly he meant was irrelevant.  With Campbell, it’s “THE ECONOMIC DISASTER!”  The irony, of course, is that it’s privatization, confusing standardized testing for education, raising tution fees, and failing to guarantee basic human needs like housing, food, medical care, and mental health support that’s caused the economic disaster in the first place.

Here at The Farmhouse, things won’t really change that much; we were marginal to begin with, and we’ll keep right on building a life for ourselves that doesn’t depend on structures that are beyond our control.  I don’t think any of us actually had any illusions that a new government would change very much, because it’s the structure of government that’s the problem, regardless of who’s in the chair.  At best, we might — and I stress might — have seen the threat of offshore oil and gas drilling and huge oil tankers in our fragile coastal ecosystems lifted, for now.  But then again, maybe not.  Until people get up off their butts and decide what they want and then go get it, change is not going to come by shoving some fucking piece of paper into a box and then going back to sleep for four more years.

The fact remains that there is not, and never has been, anything resembling real democracy in this province, or anywhere else.  The only thing that makes change is just getting out and doing it, building the world we want to live in by talking to each other, by going out and doing it.  So I guess I’ll get up tomorrow and head back out to the garden, just like usual.  Tonight maybe I’ll console myself with a little reading from Edward Abbey, and shake all that election insanity out of my head.  For a moment there I almost thought that voting made a difference; silly me.

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The 10 X 10 Garden: A Hundred Square Feet of Permaculture

I’m holding a series of three workshops this month on how to build a 10 X 10 Permaculture garden.  Check out the info on my Upcoming Workshops and Events page!  Thanks.

An Open Letter to Alan Weisman

I recently finished reading “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman.  The basic premise is, what would happen if suddenly all of us humans vanished form the Earth?  Not through war or natural disaster or by any other means that might likewise devastate other organisms, but if all the humans were simply and suddenly gone.  What would happen to our cities, our factories, our nuclear power plants and toxic waste sinks, our oil sands and arms dumps?  How would ecosystems respond?  How would species currently on the road to human-caused extinction fare?  It’s really a phenomenal book, and while I highly recommend it, I was troubled by the way he handled what seemed to be the conclusion of the book, if one can say that it has such a thing.

Weisman ends the book with a brief discussion of human population dynamics, and although he never comes right out and says it, he definitely gives the reader the impression that the best thing we can do is limit every woman on Earth to only one child.  Sound familiar?  Familiar, and troubling.  So troubling, in fact, that I was prompted to write the following letter, which I have mailed to him in Massechusettes where I’m not certain if he’ll ever read it or not.  I have copied it here for your reading enjoyment and comment, with one caveat: at this blog, the fact that we live in a global patriarchy where women are disproportionately poor, marginalized, and subject to violence is NOT up for debate.  If you doubt, dear reader, there are lots of data and information out there in the world with which to educate yourself on the topic.  Please do so before commenting — it isn’t mine or anyone else’s job to educate you about something which is abundantly clear to anyone who investigates it.  Anti-feminist rants will not be posted, so don’t bother.  There’s lots of places for that, this blog doesn’t need to become another one.  Thanks.

An Open Letter to Allen Weisman

Dear Mr. Weisman,

I have recently finished reading “The World Without Us” and felt compelled to write you for two reasons.  The first is that your book has touched m in many ways — good and bad, but deeply — and I would like to thank you for all your work, research, and insight.  The second reason, however, is that I left the world of your book feeling troubled.  Not by its content, which while deeply troubling is also meant to be so, should be so to any living, thinking person and so I feel okay, even good, about being troubled by it, but by your analysis of it.  In the last few pages of the book you delve into the intricate world of human population, which is certainly an important and highly pertinent topic.  But to do so in only a few pages and with only one level of analysis — women should have fewer children — is an oversimplification that borders on dangerous in a way that leaves me feeling the queasy, heart-pounding fear of a woman under threat.

When studying food policy in university I often encountered the topic of so-called “population control” in discussions of world food security issues.  Certainly, anyone can see that reducing the number of humans would ease the pressure on both earth and human systems.  But far too often the attention paid to lowering overall birth rates distracts attention from the much more easily and equitably obtainable goal of reducing the overall impacts that each of those children will have throughout their lives.  A family of 5 in many places will use less resources in their whole lives than a child born in Canada might use in her first five years, as I’m sure you know.  And so the population control discourse becomes a way for people in overconsuming nations to abdicate responsibility for their choices and instead lay the blame at the feet of the poor in the majority world.  The irony is that this is overhwlemingly NOT their mess, and yet they are blamed for it because they have “too many children.”  An oversimplfication based in racist feelings of entitlement has the dangerous ability to masquerade as sound policy if not put into its social and historical context.

And then we must remember that when we are speaking about children, we are speaking about mothers, about women.  Women, who also did not make this mess.  Men have been in control in most of the world, and have used violence from the personal to the structural to maintain that control, for the last five thousand years or so.  Theories about prehistoric overhunting aside, it is in the timeframe of global patriarchy that most of the damage you write about has been done.  And now women are to clean up the mess by obediently having fewer children, after centuries of obediently having many children to facilitate patrilineal inheritance patterns and male ideas about “spreading strong seed” which created so much of the mess in the first place?  “Limiting” women to one child is a dangerous line of thinking that again implies that the responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in does not lie with the ideologies that cause it — colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism — nor with those — primarily Euro- and Euro-American (and Canadian) men — who have perpetuated them and who disproportionately benefit from them to this day.  Again, some context is required.

I do not disagree with you that population reduction would be easier on the Earth and ourselves.  But the method of that reduction must be just.  In a just world, birth rates would lower themselves.  Given access to healthcare, education, equal rights and choices, women have fewer children and have them later.  At 28 I am a double minority among women my age across the world, both childless and university educated.  I hope to have a child in my life, but not likely before 30 because I have goals I want to acheive first — and the later in their lives women have children, the slower population grows.  Because I am not dependent on my family, my partner, or his family for financial or social support, I can assert these kinds of choices for myself and feel secure in sticking to them, knowing that I can live the life I want.

How different would the world be if all women had access to freedom and to choices?  If heterosexuality, marriage, and childbearing were not enforced but chosen, or not chosen?  To discuss population without placing the rights and standards of living of women and girls at the absolute centre is not only sexist and violent, it is also doomed to failure.  No method of enforced control of women’s fertility — and there have been many, as I’m sure you know — has ever proven to be sustainable or to produce healthy families and societies.  The mechanism of population explosion is not, or at very least is not only, access to more and better food and healthcare.  The mechanism of population explosion is women’s loss of control over our lives and our bodies, our loss of access to real choices about our lives; the mechanism of population explosion is patriarchy.  Its attendent poverty and insecurity leads to higher birth rates and deepening cycles of marginalization, therefor only a solution that addresses patriarchy is any solution at all.

I have the depenst respect for your work and for your intentions.  But no matter how good, our intentions must be expressed and acted upon in ways that are also good.  Our ends cannot justify our means, our means must reflect and demonstrate, must be our ends.  Creating a world that is just and safe for women is an acheivable goal that will also help make sure we still have a world in the future.  To discuss population and carrying capacity through a lens which doesn’t acknowledge that is to do more harm than good.  A world of 1.6 billion people, a projection which you allude to in your book as a result of a global one-child-per-woman policy, will simply baloon back to 6 and then 9 billion again if those 1.6 billion still live under the kinds of patriarchy and disparity that we live under today.  The lasting way — the only lasting way — to environmental sustainability is through equality and a just, peaceful world for us all.

In love for the Earth and all her humans,

rin, Vancouver, Canada.