Ecology/Environment Feed

Pipeline and Politicians

The publisher of the York New Times, the paper in the small town of York, Nebraska, strongly criticizes Nebraska's politicans for supporting the Keystone XL Pipeline and, even more, for refusing to be present to listen to Nebraskans strong opposition.

Let’s get serious. The nation’s final KXL environmental hearing was held at the same venue as the Nebraska State Fair. Had this been an actual state fair, this current crop of elected officials would have been thicker than flies over at the bovine barn. But their minds were made up and nothing their constituents would say, nor over 800,000 comments submitted to the State Department, means anything to them. That says a lot about their view of democracy, doesn’t it?

Their absence was a glaring embarrassment on a day when the nation came to Nebraska to listen to the people, and our state leaders didn’t want to hear a word.


Bag in the Wind

Bag in the WindBag in the Wind by Ted Kooser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was Chaplain of the Day at the Nebraska state legislature today. After I had given the invocation, conversed with a handful of Senators and their aides, enjoyed an Ernie Chambers speech, and (in total) spent about an hour in the chamber, I chose to head on home. On my way out, I stopped by the gift store in the Capitol. The store had the best selection of Nebraska-themed books I have yet encountered -- many stores hear have excellent Nebraska-related collections; the literary tradition here is valued.

I picked up a single volume copy of Neihardt's Cycle of the West, which I had not seen anywhere else before, and browsed a number of other interesting books, registering some which I'd like to read or own some day.

In the children's book section, I encountered this beautiful book cover and interesting title and was intrigued to see that Ted Kooser was the author. Kooser is a former poet laureate and a Nebraskan. I read one of his books last spring and very much enjoyed it. I have two books of his poetry that I plan to get to this year. I was curious what a children's book by him would be like.

I picked it up and skimmed it and could tell that it was indeed a lovely book -- lovely art and lovely story, so I purchased it and read it this evening.

This is a magnificent story about the travel of a grocery bag. For anyone interested in teaching their children about recycling, the environment, the homeless, gender equity, or thrift shops, you should get this book. The moral themes are not preached at, but lie within the elements of a well told story.

Also, indicative of Kooser, the natural landscape is a significant character in its own write. Here it is lovingly described and illustrated.

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Arianna Huffington, writing from Davos, discusses "resilience," the new value necessary for surviving and thriving in the 21st century.  

I first heard resilience discussed in an NPR story as a value that some cities were embracing in their architecture and design.  No longer is sustainability enough, we have now moved into the era when we must cope with globe climate change and defend ourselves against it.

Huffington takes the value to the broader level of global systems.

I'm curious how it will apply in the smaller systems in which I work, church, non-profits, household, etc.

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the WorldThe Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Over Thanksgiving weekend I visited Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas with Mom and Michael. While browsing the books, I saw this title from Michael Pollan. I had heard of it before, but had not considered it. This time it arrested me because I was about to begin a sermon series for Advent focused on desire. Hmm, would there be sermon illustration material in the book? I bought it.

And, yes, I used some of his stories of apples in my sermon the First Sunday of Advent. Clearly the illustration worked, as people talked to me about it through the following week, and even one church member posted on Facebook, "Am I the only one who has been thinking about apples all week?"

The main point of Pollan's book is that plants have evolved to match human desires and, thus, have succeeded at the evolutionary game. In other words, playing off of human desire has been good for some plants.

The book focuses on four desires and four plants, with interesting excursions and tangents in every chapter. Sweetness and apples; beauty and tulips; intoxication and marijuana; and control and potatoes. The book is one part exploration of human culture and one part exploration of botany. It is a joy, revelation, and delight.

Here is the story of Johnny Appleseed, tulipomania in Holland, and the potato famine in Ireland. There are excursions to Kazakhstan for the home of the apple and Peru the home of the potato. You learn about agri-business and the drug war and genetics.

Each chapter contained much of interest. I learned much about the development of marijuana and how the drug war has resulted in even more potent versions of the plant as growers have developed incredible new techniques. This chapter spoke about many of the hypocrisies of the drug war, often covered material, but within the context of a larger human desire. We need to be able to forget most of the information that we receive every day. There are natural processes built into the human brain to do this, but we can still become overloaded and have sought plant chemistry to help us with this. In fact, we use many different plants to alter our systems (caffeine, chocolate, chamomile, etc.). He also discusses how the plant-based high was perceived as a pagan threat by Christianity and connects the oppression of witches and sorcerers with their gardening abilities. Modern medicine is simply the controlled professionalization of this use of plants.

In the final chapter, on the potato, he discusses genetic engineering and modern agri-business. Wendell Berry is quoted a few times. It was also interesting to learn some of the history of the potato, particularly how it my be the one thing most responsible for the shift of power in Europe from the south to the north in the early modern era.

I recommend this book to all my friends interested in food, everyone who has read Wendell Berry, those who garden, and those who like history from the perspective that isn't focused on politics and government.

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