David Stevens

Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Attack of the Spider Woman

In Uncategorized on May 13, 2017 at 12:59 pm

I awoke the other morning from uneasy dreams to find that, lying in my bed, I had been transformed into a giant insect. In the unearthly morning light, the remnants of a purple mist could be seen, passing through walls and windows.  Not again.

There was nothing for it.  Lying on my hard, as it were armour plated, back, I knew I had to wait it out.  What about sleeping a little longer and forgetting all this nonsense, I thought, the klaxon lighted sky making me feel melancholy.

But then I thought some more.  Realising no one else was about (for I share my fortified compound with no-one), I dangled first one leg, then the next, then another, from the bed, until my centre of gravity shifted and I tumbled to the floor.  I shook my segments, set my bearings with my multi-faceted eyes, and set off to explore the room.  Before I knew it, I was walking up the wall, and on the ceiling.  I felt my wings begin to quiver, and was almost overcome by a desire to set sail across the air.

I explored my home as though a stranger, which I suppose I was.  I knew I should not be doing this.  The accepted etiquette is to simply wait until one is one’s self again.  We are in possession of our faculties.  We know better.  As I set off, I felt naughty, then more than that.  I felt great.

 

I opened the door (yes, I was a giant insect and did not have opposable thumbs, however I retained a human brain and it was my door after all), and nearly fainted with the overload of my senses, with all the signals of death and decay.  A whole universe of half broken down organisms to be clambered through and consumed.

Shaking a little, I danced with joy.  Liberation.  A secret indulgence.  How often does one get to experience the pleasures of another creature, to live in the body of another?  Even if it was the body of a giant cockroach.

Then I noticed the stillness.  Something was wrong.  From a corner of the garden, it ran at me.

Before I knew what I was doing, I realised that I too was running as fast as my six legs could take me.  Purely from instinct, I jinked and changed direction.  One of my compound lenses revealed what was in pursuit.  A giant spider was coming at me at terrifying speed.  This was outrageous.  It was nothing natural.  A creature of that size could only be another person, transformed for the moment by this morning’s toxic discharge.  I tried to gather who it must be.  It could only be the woman from across the road.  She always seemed a little wrong headed.  She knew she was supposed to stay in her own place.  I cursed myself for my stupidity,  no matter how high my walls, they were no match for a giant arachnid.

I turned again, having the advantage of knowledge of the layout of my fortified compound.  Fool.  I was running where she was driving me.  Just when I thought I was about to reach the safety of the house, I stopped.  The more I struggled, the more I was stopped.  Web!

I turned and looked at her.  There was something disturbingly Freudian about the way she was manically manipulating her pincers.  I tried to reason with her, but only a whole lot of roach gibberish came out.  Though afraid, my anger dropped away: she was only doing the same as me, experiencing the alien.

Then it stopped.  The rigidity of the armour passed away, and there I was, flesh bodied and human again.  The same for the woman, although she continued to run oddly for a few steps after her body had returned.  At least she had the courtesy to help unwrap the web from me.  It was only afterwards that I reflected how odd it was to be standing there naked in that situation.

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Warning

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2017 at 8:58 am

Goodness, I haven’t blogged this warning for quite a while. The most excellent Jared Diamond has warned us of the dangers of ecological collapse, but perhaps there is a more pertinent warning of the dangers of … well, of the dangers of sweets:

In 1849, hungry gold miners crossing the Nevada desert noticed some glistening balls of a candy-like substance on a cliff, licked or ate the balls, and discovered them to be sweet-tasting, but then they developed nausea. Eventually it was realized that the balls were hardened deposits made by small rodents, called packrats … Not being toilet trained, the rats urinate in their nests, and sugar and other substances crystallize from their urine as it dries out … In effect, the hungry gold miners were eating dried rat urine laced with rat feces and rat garbage.

– Collapse by Jared Diamond

Now you know: don’t, just don’t. Nancy Reagan was right. Just say no. Never accept sweets from a stranger. Or from rats.

So Excitement

In Uncategorized on February 2, 2016 at 12:15 am

So excitement is right. There must just be something wonderful about being a ‘Tim’. I’ve raved before about Tim Powers, and of course there is Tim Brooke-Taylor, and, er, I suppose, Tiny Tim. But Australian Tims are in another category altogether – and I am not (just) talking about Tim Tams.

Tim Winton releases a book (for adults – not ‘The Bugalug Bum Thief’, for example, despite the intriguing title), and I’m there. Tim Flannery, (almost) ditto – ‘The Future Eaters’ remains amongst my favourite books. Hell, I even liked Tim from Big Brother a few years ago.

The darker moments of a former career can be interesting companions at 3am, but one moment of pure pleasure was when I arranged for Tim Low to speak at a conference. He divided the audience, and that was great. People came up to me afterwards, both pleased and puzzled. ‘Feral Future’ dealt with exotic invaders and pests, at the same time revealing much I never knew about the modern history of Australia, and it was followed by ‘The New Nature’. An important part of both books is how we are dominated by the thinking of our age, an alleged commonsense which often does not stand the test of time, and how important truths may be counterintuitive. I would wish these books on anyone with an interest in nature and/or Australia, and our ecological future. However, very important, read them in order – TNN has a greater degree of (cautious) optimism, and was meant to given the topic of FF. I, of course, being me, read TNN, thought, this is great, and hunted down FF – also great, but man was I bummed out. In the words of the immortal-ish Molly Meldrum, do yourself a favour and read them both (but yes, in order).

But: so excitement – I have in my hands the latest Tim Low. I cannot really comment because I have not read it yet, but it is about one of my favourite things: birds! And plenty of Australian birds! (have I mentioned that I am a birdwatcher, though a very bad one? has my wife told you how hard it is to work through our holiday photos to find a photo of our children, when most photos are of a branch where a bird had been sitting only moments before?) And science! And did I mention birds? – well, birds! And the cover is absolutely gorgeous …

song began

Low is an amazing writer and speaker, a fascinating man. He is a scientist who writes with both passion and where appropriate, dispassion, about such interesting and amazing things, especially on topics dear to my heart. I look forward to diving into this.

 

No, men are from Anu’udria …

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Well, I laughed at it anyway. And its about writing, so I can justify including the link here. Plus there are no allegedly cute pictures of cats. (Do feral cats really kill 75 million native Australian animals each night? Mindboggling.)

No Lions please, we’re British

In Uncategorized on November 2, 2013 at 9:10 am

You have to (yes, it is compulsory) love a book that includes the following: a section on the reintroduction of vanished species to Britain; in that section, a table naming species with an estimated date of extinction in Britain; a rating of their suitability for reintroduction; a heading, “Reintroduction efforts so far”; an entry simply stating “Lion”; and the comment “The clamour for the lion’s reintroduction to Britain has, so far, been muted”. Just lovely.
I have thoroughly enjoyed, and been terribly upset by, George Monbiot’s “Feral”. I cannot do it justice. A great quality of the book is its hopefulness, coupled with an awareness of the possible. It can be strident, but it is in no way unrealistic. He is fair in admitting his prejudices, and in the time and thought he gives to views that disagree with his own. His description of Alan Watson Featherstone, and his growing admiration for him, is delightful:

I have developed a number of prejudices, which until now appeared to be rational: against people who believe in the significance of coincidences; against people who maintain that plants grow better if you love them; against people who live at the Findhorn Foundation…; against men with ponytails. Alan belongs to all of these categories, yet he resembles none of the stereotypes I have, perhaps unfairly, constructed around such traits.

His is one of the most engaging minds I have come across.

The lion is of course native to Britain*, only having become extinct about 11,000 years ago. Australia’s recent history of extinction is distressing, and the distinct nature of Australia’s fauna means that it is not possible to reintroduce most animals. In some cases, a remnant population has been discovered on an island, or where an extinction is local, it has been possible to repopulate from another part of the country. However, in terms of restoring an ecosystem to health, a replacement has to be found. I think the first time I came across this was in a suggestion in “The Future Eaters” by Tim Flannery that Komodo dragons could be introduced to replace now extinct local reptilian megafauna. More recently, there have even been suggestions that elephants could be introduced into the Northern Territory, in part to help deal with introduced African grass species. Of course, that is part of the problem, the number of introduced species introduced within the last century or so into a set of unique ecosystems.
The crazy extent of this is set out in “Feral Future” by Tim Low, “the untold story of Australia’s exotic invaders”. Leaving aside questions of livestock that commenced arriving with the First Fleet, Australians well know and rue the introduction of the rabbit and the fox. More recently, we are seeing the countryside ruined by the cane toad (deliberately introduced in 1932, and that introduction seen as an act of genius). What is fascinating is the 19th century Acclimatisation Societies, organisations of learned men (I am not aware of any female participation) determined to spread the world’s animals and plants between all nations. In 1862, the Governor of Victoria sought to have monkeys released into the native forests. “They wanted South American alpacas in our mountain chains, Himalayan pheasants in Gippsland, ostriches and antelope in the outback…” Fortunately they failed in many of their endeavours, but we live today with their successes. I met Tim Low a number of years ago when he spoke at a conference I arranged. If I had power, he would have money and be in charge of something big and important, but I do not. I recommend both of his books, but make sure you read them in the right order. He felt that “Feral Future” ended on a bit of a low note, and wanted to be encouraging, so followed it up with “The New Nature”. Unfortunately, I was entranced by the second book and so sought out the first, and ended up with the downer he sought to avoid.

*well, lion bones have been found in the Netherlands, which is close

“Feral” by George Monbiot
“Feral Future” by Tim Low
“The New Nature” by Tim Low
“The Future Eaters” by Tim Flannery

Read them all!

The oceans die while the coward drinks his coffee and turns the page …

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2013 at 3:11 am

Am I the only person in the world to give up a coffee addiction after watching South Park? Watching Tweek treat his anxiety with coffee I thought, I don’t need the jitters or the upset stomach any more. Yet there I was this morning, having my second cappuccino in two days (I think my sixth cup for the year), and I could feel my nervousness rising. It was the combination of the coffee and reading this article by Greg Ray in the Sydney Morning Herald over breakfast. Ivan Macfadyen sailed across the Pacific and compared to an earlier voyage, found a silent wasteland. The fish are gone, and with them, the birds. I closed my eyes and pictured the massive factory boats, the huge industrial centres floating across the seas, destroying everything in their wake like a Fred Saberhagen Berserker or a city block sized Terminator. Out of sight, this gargantuan wasteful destruction going unchecked. I could not finish the article over breakfast, though I have now.
The work of these ships is described clearly in horrifying detail in George Monbiot’s “Feral“, where he sets out how nothing in the ocean escapes, as the machines even turn over boulders weighing tonnes on the sea floor. Day and night they work, sending us closer to the edge.
I struggle with this. I don’t want to turn a blind eye, yet I need to get through the day, and I cannot do that if I despair. How easy an excuse that becomes to turn away. Yet Monbiot, who has seen more of the world’s environmental horrors than many people, does not fall into this trap. If this was a proper article, I would give you his quote on why we should not despair, that despite the problems of this age, we have previously unavailable opportunities to act individually and collectively to change the world for the better, though we must have courage. However, I misplaced my note. But what I will give you is the final paragraph in an article he has on his website giving career advice which deserves to be repeated all over:

You know you have only one life. You know it is a precious, extraordinary, unrepeatable thing: the product of billions of years of serendipity and evolution. So why waste it by handing it over to the living dead?

Read “Feral” by George Monbiot