We staggered out of bed yesterday morning to the sound of a fire alarm going off in the January gloom and half naked hung-over bodies appearing out of bedrooms wondering if it was just a false alarm.
By the time we had reached the foyer the manager was looking panicked as she explained that the underground car park had flooded and all the cars down there had ‘gone’.
Discovering that Nissan Almera has been flooded in an underground car park is not the ideal way to finish of a short break in Sligo.
So it was a relief to find that our car had actually survived. Some car owners in the level below where not as fortunate, but ours was OK. Then I saw the pictures from my new home. Down by Spanish Arch was flooded, the promenade in Salthill was wrecked with stones and lifeguard huts strewn over the road. Spiddal looked the same.
And there seems to be more of that sort of weather on the way.
I was wondering afterwards if this is the sort of thing we should get used to seeing?Remember that late snow last spring when the sheep got stuck? Remember that extremely cold winter when our pipes burst? Remember that extremely wet summer when farmers couldn’t get into fields to harvest potatoes?
I think in Ireland we assume that we live on a benign little island that isn’t effected by weather extremes and that we’ll be alright if the worlds temperature rises.
A common attitude would be that it would be nice to live in a warmer country.
But to pick one example we can’t grow all the food we need to eat as an island, with most of our wheat or corn grown in places around the planet. If they can’t grow cereal due to drought then that effects us with food prices or just scarcity.
There aren’t new areas of farmland we can just move to if we need to grow more food.
Below is a graph of world population growth since 10,000 BC. I am amazed by the population growth over the last few hundred years.Now is not the time in world history for dependable farm lands to become unreliable.
I have never really worked out why lots of people don’t want to believe what the majority of scientists are saying about climate change. Perhaps the simple truth is that just don’t want to change our way of life.
Hidden away among the undergrowth of the manse/house/home I found a few raspberry canes.
So the past few weeks I’ve been picking them, raspberry by raspberry, setting them on a tray in the freezer and bagging them to see what weight of fruit I can harvest from this piece of land in the garden. (can we reach 500g?)
These canes have been completely neglected and in my excitement I’ve probably been over eager to pick them. They could maybe have been left a few more days to plump up a little. But I was excited to get them picked.
The thing that I am trying to get into my head and visualize is the amount of land that is needed to grow x amount of raspberries. An area of land about 0.5 m sq has so far yield about enough berries to make a pudding. How much land is needed to grow all the pots of raspberry jam that are going mouldy in cupboards all over Ireland?
This is something that is nearly impossible for us to do being disconnected from the land as we are, especially those of us who live in cities or towns. To picture a piece of land somewhere in the world where our raspberries are grown might take a bit of effort.
The same for our wheat, our rice, our potatoes. When we lift a bag in Dunnes Stores we have little reason to think about where the beans for our baked beans are grown or where the sugar for our Coca Cola was grown. But they have been grown and harvested somewhere,in some other community and piece of land.
The metals in that enamel milk jug where dug up somewhere. The rare earth materials in our electronic gadgets came from somewhere.
Thinking about rare metals seems to be something that we need not concern ourselves with and it wasn’t really something I had considered that much until this morning after church when I got chatting to a gentleman from Malaysia who starting talking about a rare earth refining plant in his home town. Our demand for electronics will have consequences for the area he is from. For him the big concern wasn’t so much the radiation from the processing plant but the acidification of water from the refining process. What will people do when trees start dying from the change in acidity? How will the water be neutralized when it costs so much?
He had also mentioned that when you fly into Malaysia you now see unending palm tree plantations to supply the world with palm oil. To plant the palm trees
that go into cosmetics and other consumer products the native forests had to be cleared and burnt. That bar of soap in the bathroom might have come from his neck of the woods and if not it came from someone else part of the world. How many neglected, unused bars of soap are sitting in bathrooms around the UK?
I think talking to this gentleman from this particular part of the world reminded me that buying a new smart phone or coconut milk in Poundland has consequences for real people, not abstract, ghost-like phantoms who’ll just be alright.
I’d forgotten a bit about my copper mine mapping project but was just reading this article on The Guardian Website.
‘the copper smelter near Ilo (southern Peru) produced poisonous airborne plumes that affected vegetation and lungs for miles around…The Ilo smelter opened in 1960, and within four years farmers up to 200 kilometers away had organized a lawsuit seeking compensation for crop damage’
John McNeill, Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the twentieth Century
Copper mining it is this week
The last few years I have had a growing desire to become more connected to where my physical possessions actually came from. This computer I am typing on isn’t some magical device that appeared in Curry’s one day, but was mined and refined from raw material taken from the earths crust at one stage.
The device you are reading this on will contain copper. Where did the copper that makes you computing device come from? Was it mined in a way that respected the country it came from? What are the environmental effects of copper being mined? Where is it likely to have come from? Who benefits from the profits?
Perhaps these are the sorts of questions that are important to ask. Even before an ipad gets to the factory to be assembled there has been a vast enterprise of mining and refining of base metals. And this mining a refining doesn’t come cheaply. For instance, of the largest copper mines, Chuquicamata in Chile(the 2nd deepest man made hole on earth) used about 8 times the amount of water as Santiago the capital city. I’m not saying that figure is accurate but only that is a figure I heard mentioned in a video on YouTube.
So maybe a few more copper related postings in the next few days.
Walking along the canal there is a field that has been roughly ploughed. It reminded of a quote in last Sunday’s Observer from Joel Salatin.
“The soil is the only thread upon which civilisation can exist. If a person could ever realise that our existence depends on literally inches of active aerobic microbial life on terra firma, we might begin to appreciate the ecological umbilical to which we are all still attached,” Salatin told treehugger.com. “The food industry, I’m convinced, actually believes we don’t need soil to live.”
That echoed what I had beeen reading this morning in ‘Salads the Year Round’ by Joy Larkcom.
‘If anyone were to ask me what are the most important factors in growing vegetables, epecially salads, sucessfully, I would reply without hesistation: soil fertility and shelter. So soil fertility is a good starting point.’
Which seems to be true to me. We need to respect and care for the soil.
A few years ago as a symbolic act of our need to treat the soil with respect I decided to listen to the soil in my garden and record what I heard. You can listen to a sound recording below.