Michael Riordon

the view from where I live


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“The cradle of conservation”

Everywhere on this earth we have plundered, blasted, torn, drilled, stripped and otherwise devastated “beautiful, quiet, complicated” landscapes that sustained us for millennia. Add destruction of the other two life support systems, water and air, and we dig our own graves.

North Dakota shale landscapeNorth Dakota oil drill pads. Photo: National Parks Conservation Association

One such fragile landscape is the badlands region of North Dakota. Unfortunately it’s also the centre of the decade-long Bakken shale oil boom.  In The cradle of conservation, a touching – literally, touching – account in Earth Island Journal, conservation writer Taylor Brorby revisits the state where he grew up, and wonders what might still be recovered here after the boom has died.

As in the northern Alberta tar sands, enormous profits have been extracted here, and incalculable harm done.  Now oil prices have plummeted, but still, with lavish government subsidies the plunder goes on.  So does resistance on the ground.  One way or another, eventually the plunder – or the oil – must come to an end.  And as in any disaster, those who remain will recover what they can.

For further insight into the nature, value and recovery of living landscapes, check out Bold Scientists, here.  Scroll down to chapter 3, A dialogue with the world.


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Not in my backyard

DSCF4867Marla, in our extended backyard.

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.

Event details hereAddress & transit info here.  Scroll down for a Map link.

 

 

 


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Not in my backyard

DSCF4867

Marla, in our extended backyard.

On a cool, bright autumn walk with Marla the dog, I got to thinking about NIMBY.  Not In My Backyard.  It implies a perceived threat to a space that represents ‘my backyard.’  But what defines a backyard? Fences? Where I live we have none.

We range freely through miles of forest, open meadow and wetland, far beyond the extent of the title deed that defines the 60 rural acres my partner and I own. This other land is semi-wild, with no roads, no power lines, the occasional ATV track, and an abundance of animal tracks. I assume that someone owns this other land; that’s how things have gone since the Europeans invaded. 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 for the book 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.  But we need energy, we need gas, we need…. Yes, yes, but just for a moment, imagine.

Meantime, join biologist Curt Meine in the long community struggle to restore one small sliver of this precious earth, the only backyard we’ve got.  In Bold Scientists.