June 4, 1989

crowds on a green football pitch

A very weird time, compared to now. Both in its strange surreality at the time, and within the context of the even more bizarre and dangerous fascism of today, the protest and massacres of hundreds during the student-led movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989 are a haunted monument to breakdown.
The Chinese state de-legitimized itself with the actions of the People’s Liberation Army on that day and the days that followed. It was only for the people to forget and become accustomed to the new stance of the state, and begin to defend it against further incursive protest. Fortunately, even with all of their successful efforts along so many economic fronts, the state has performed woefully in the fight against memory.

Many millions of Americans watched in awe at the courage of the protestors in the square, their wonderful, makeshift Lady Liberty, and then in horror as the square was cleared. Did we understand the source of the bravery of the individuals, the solemn esteem, honor and homage they presented to some of our very own institutions and well-noted principles in yearning for their own? We allowed ourselves to be flattered, perhaps even extended pre-virtual hand of support, of course otherwise held harmless. The protestors are right! How dare the Army? How dare the government kill its own people!

Having fetishized liberty and freedom practically of all meaning, what remains of our ability to reject, to fight oppression and coercion, to remember? We know what we are seeing this week. Can we recognize it?

Image: Hongkongers remember Tiananmen dead in Victoria Park, June 4, 2020

Some sun, some dough

Mrs. Green snapped this on a drive through the southern part of the state yesterday. This is what may happen when people figure out they can profit from captured non-fossil energy.


Opiates for the People

You may not have heard of this; I certainly had not. Via LGM, re-framing Afghanistan’s poppy problem as an opportunity for global health:

The Afghan poppy crop could be repurposed away from illicit drug production, and towards manufacturing licit opioid analgesics to address unmet needs for pain palliation, particularly for diseases such as HIV/AIDS and cancer in the developing world—that is, illegal opium could be converted into legal pain medicine, solving two problems at once.

Are they saying that you could actually think about a problem differently and then do things differently to achieve a desired result? Instead of being a’scourge’, opium production in Afghanistan could be channeled into a legal, profitable trade that would reduce pain and suffering worldwide? Wha? Would this sort of change in thinking be open to other issues, or is this a one time offer? I think we should still take it.

Bonus question: What’s the drug war going to say about this? I’ll bet it will worry and won’t be happy.

Blocking out the Sun

Which we haven’t done yet. Though growing small crops inside dramatizes, among other things, just how much actual dirt land area is necessary, but it isn’t the future of farming.

At St. Philip’s Academy, leafy greens are planted in a cloth bed and irrigated with a nutrient-infused mist. Light is provided by LED lamps, which are more energy-efficient than conventional lighting and can be placed closer to the beds. The LED lamps also provide pest control, said AeroFarms’ chief executive, Ed Harwood, because they can be set to emit certain wavelengths that disrupt insects’ breeding.

AeroFarms is leasing the machine, which stands 7 feet tall by 10 feet long, to EcoVeggies for use in the pilot project at St. Philip’s. It can produce about 20 pounds of produce per harvest, Mr. Charles said.

Maybe they point that out as a kind of public service message. After all, this is a well-meaning, for-profit concern. The “former three Wall Street technology workers” [sic] is funny – how’s that for a pedigree? But it could just as easily be some good PR for actual farms – which it is, also. Plus the kids are probably picking up on it, too, as kids unintentionally do.

Farms still have to be dirty, stretch for miles and burn your arms in the sun.

Arguing With Success

Tom Philpot at Grist links to this quote from Virginia farmer, Joel Salatin:

Number one is that it[industrial agriculture] destroys soil. Absolutely and completely. The soil is the only thread upon which civilization can exist, and it’s such a narrow strip around the globe if a person could ever realize 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. The food industry, I’m convinced, actually believes we don’t need soil to live. That we are more clever than that.

At the advent of industrial agriculture, right after the Great Depression and really catching fire right after World War II, the only consideration for the natural world was as an abstraction of our national heritage. We didn’t have a large body of oil paintings or bronze sculpture – Americans had land, mountains, canyons and sky, which we assumed went on forever and we owned. Environment as a resource was only concerned with economic determinism. No ideas of preservation, only the concept of a bottomless well. This is not castigation – it’s genuinely difficult to appreciate the past in its own time. During and after the Dust Bowl we couldn’t eat, and we recognized the fact that we couldn’t produce enough food on our farms. So we reacted, and brilliant technicians solved the problem, based on what we knew at the time.

There was no ecology, no environmental science much less any larger systems view as to how these elements of plantary ebb and flow worked together. And so the shift to industrial agriculture worked; we grow food in copious volume. It’s hard to argue down successful ventures.

But that’s exactly what we must be able to do, in a sense, in order to transition to something other than a catastrophe based on the multiple negative externalities that have been produced as a result of our great success. And they have been great. But now in possession of a greater consciousness – we can perceive the problems our actions create. Plus, as it is easy to see, we know much, much more, about our planet, our problems and our solutions. We know the problems are far more complex than is navigable with conventional responses. The non-safety, non-economic externalities are the ones that have caught up with our grand abilities to provide and prosper, which is why these are should be the first things to be brought into question, upon honest appraisal. Instead of twitching at the notion of lower inputs, we’ll have to bore into it with all we have and then some.

As a colleague said to me on this very note, “the science that got us into this situation will not be able to get us out.”

Smallholder farms

Smallholders, or smallholdings, refer to small farming operations, usually commercial and usually the work of a single family. According to the Guardian UK, some 450 million smallholder households earn their livelihoods from plots of three acres or less; with their families they make up a third of all humanity.

Most of these enterprises are scattered throughout what we commonly refer to as the Third World. As WE now have several generations between us and growing things, that’s simply not the case for many others and there currently exists a burgeoning economy of smallholder farms across the globe – not in the sense that we typically think of burgeoning or economy – but they are, or are nearly, self-sustaining, a term with which we are becoming increasingly familiar. I have a colleague of African descent who has initiated several excellent sustainable development projects there and elsewhere, targeted at seemingly minor technological innovations (solar powered, small-quantity refrigeration, for ex.) to increase the profits of smallholder farms without changing their way of life in ways that alter the social fabric of their community. It’s a tough line but also the essence of the triple bottom-line idea that gives equal consideration to people, planet and profit.

The connection of many of these farms and enterprises to the larger world is the Fair Trade federation, of which many are familiar. I bring all this up because today is the beginning of Fair Trade Fortnight, as good a time as any to familiarize yourself further with the ideas and practices of smallholder farms, their plights, fates, hopes and destiny. Who knows, there could be some overlap with yours.