On a cool, bright autumn walk with Marla, I got to thinking about NIMBY. Not In My Backyard. It implies a perceived threat to the space that represents ‘my backyard.’ But what defines a backyard? Fences? Where I live we have none, except for ancient, collapsing cedar rails that now seem archeological.
We range freely through miles of forest, open meadow and wetland, far beyond the legal extent of the title deed that defines the 60 rural acres my partner and I ‘own.’ The land beyond is semi-wild, with no roads, no power lines, the occasional ATV incursion, and an abundance of animal tracks. I assume that someone ‘owns’ this other land; that’s how things have worked since the Europeans arrived. But for now, this is our extended backyard.
So then, what constitutes a backyard? If you’re an imperial power it means anything you want, up to and including the whole earth and as far out into space as you can grab. But what does it mean for the rest of us?
On my travels in writing Bold Scientists I visited with conservation biologist Curt Meine in the midwestern state of Wisconsin. Near Madison, the capital, we explored a devastated landscape, the former site of a vast military munitions complex, which citizens are working hard to restore to a healthy Sauk Prairie landscape. They hope to take care of it, as part of their extended backyard. But where are the boundaries?
As Curt sees it, “In nature the boundaries of larger reality are never set. In my little local place I can walk around, grow a garden, watch the birds, keep an eye on the sand cranes and the wild turkeys. I can only see about a mile, but I know the river out there is connected all the way to the Mississippi River, 80 miles that way (he points southwest, more or less), that feeds eventually into the Atlantic Ocean, which is part of the global ocean system. It’s the same with landscapes, they can be as small as a few square feet where you’re standing, and as large as the planet. Among all the levels are feedback loops, so they all affect each other.
“This means you can’t have a healthy farm or forest, park or city, in a landscape that’s unsustainable, or on a planet where the climate is going haywire, temperatures are rising, oceans are acidifying, and the poles are melting, largely due to our actions. So there’s always this tension between wanting to save the world at large and wanting to focus all your energies close to home. At least if you can work well on your part, and others are working well on their part, eventually you can build a community of engaged people to collaborate on the larger pieces of the whole.”
Imagine if in our backyard, our extended backyard, there were no tar sands. No oil and gas pipelines. No nuclear plants. No tops blown off mountains for coal. No fracking… Imagine.
Meantime, biologist Curt Meine carries on the long community struggle to restore one small sliver of this precious earth, ultimately the only backyard we’ve got. The story is here, in Bold Scientists.
Join me for a talk on gardening and the extended backyard, October 27, 2015, 6:30 – 8:30 pm, at the Toronto Reference Library.
The leap manifesto offers real grounds for real hope. Not the fast-food Hope marketed by cynical politicians, but the real thing, deeply transformative, built by all of us with open eyes, compassion, imagination, and yes, hard work.
“I have seen what happens when standards of decency, human rights and ethics are thrown out in a wave of totalitarian or government zeal.” Steven Reisner, member of the Council, American Psychological Association, and co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology.
A shining moment: On Friday, August 7 in Toronto, Canada, the American Psychological Association voted to bar its 80,000 members from any further collaboration in ‘national security interrogations,’ ie torture by the American government and its agencies.
This historic shift was hard won, after a decade of grassroots organizing to counter APA executive deceit and collusion with the CIA.
The current regime in Ottawa acts on the premise that the less we citizens know, the easier we are to manage. They don’t need objective evidence to make policy with impact on every aspect of life, only guile and brute force.
The resulting assault on the public right to know, here and internationally, takes many devious forms, detailed here.
Scientists for the Right to Know arises in direct response to this ominous assault. “Please join us,” they invite, “in the fight to maintain Canada as a country in which policies are based on scientific knowledge, not uninformed ideology.”
The new SRK blog is here. Full disclosure: Recently they published a piece by me, Questions need to be asked. In any case, judging by the several posts they’ve put up so far, this looks to be a valuable voice – collection of voices – in defence of knowledge and democracy.