“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world
is either a madman or an economist.” - Kenneth Boulding Grantham continued, “I think a portfolio of farms that are doing state-of-the-art [organic] farming over a 20-, 30-year horizon will be the best investment money can buy. So I’m killing two birds with one stone: I want my foundation to make more money than anyone else on the planet, because that gives us much more to spend for the main event — which is saving the planet, in a nutshell.”
From the publisher: Explorer, scientist, writer, and humanist, Alexander von Humboldt was the most famous intellectual of the age that began with Napoleon and ended with Darwin. With Cosmos, the book that crowned his career, Humboldt offered to the world his vision of humans and nature as integrated halves of a single whole. In it, Humboldt espoused the idea that, while the universe of nature exists apart from human purpose, its beauty and order, the very idea of the whole it composes, are human achievements: cosmos comes into being in the dance of world and mind, subject and object, science and poetry.
Watch a short video of the author introducing von Humboldt & reading from the book HERE.
"It is thanks to Ray Bradbury that I understand this world I grew into for what it is: a dystopian future. And it is thanks to him that we know how to conduct ourselves in such a world: arm yourself with books. Assassinate your television. Go for walks, and talk with your neighbors. Cherish beauty; defend it with your life. Become a Martian." - Tim Kreider in the NYTimes
"Mac Low admired Pound more than Cage did. One of the things that was, to me, so always interesting about the way Cage worked was that he thought out his procedures very carefully in advance, not so that he would know what was going to happen in the parts of the structure that would allow chance operations to choose the points, as he would put it, in the text, but because he knew the way you choose your procedure has a lot to do with extremely formal elements ultimately. He chose to let more of Pound in [more, that is, than Mac Low does based on his procedure in our poem] and this was ultimately more unpleasant for Cage because he didn't like the Pound. I think the reason to continue reading Pound and to continue the agonistic relationship we all have to have with Pound when we read [him] is that it is such a presentation of the complexities and the horrifying things that can happen to a mind that is going in directions that are passionate without empathy, without contact with others." (on PoemTalk here)
Steve Beyer on Levinas:
"It is clear that Heidegger’s ideal is in fact a sort of spiritual solipsism. All the Heideggerian virtues — authenticity, resolution, heeding the call of conscience — serve to isolate (vereinzeln) us. Thus, for example, “Death, understood in authentic anticipation, isolates Dasein in itself” (1962, § 53, p. 308); “Understanding the call of conscience reveals one’s own Dasein in the dreadfulness of its isolation” (§ 60, p. 342); “The call of conscience… implacably isolates Dasein” (§ 62, p. 354)
Heidegger’s philosophy is thus an egology: the relation with Being is more important than the relation with other people. But where Heidegger finds significance in existence as a project, Levinas locates it precisely in responsibility for the Other. “This is the question of the meaning of being: not the ontology of the understanding of that extraordinary verb, but the ethics of its justice. The question par excellence or the question of philosophy. Not ‘Why being rather than nothing?’, but how being justifies itself” (Levinas, 1984, p. 86)." (from blog post here)
The latest book by science and environment author Fred Pearce is a
breezy waltz through a key global problem that has yet to register with
In 2008, food prices around the world spiked, tipping many on the
edges of poverty into crisis. But the rise in the cost of food also
focused the minds of financiers, businessmen, oligarchs and Gulf oil
sheikhs. After the disaster of subprime mortgages, land seemed
a surefire bet and there was something comforting about this red-hot
investment being tangible.
The rush for land has also been given the blessing of many in power,
including the British government’s chief scientist, Sir John Beddington,
who argues the only way to feed a growing population is to hand over
the world’s farmland to productive agri-businesses.
Pearce’s Landgrabbers is an attempt to knock a hole in this argument.
With half the world’s poor and hungry living on small farms, how can it
make sense to take away their land in the context of feeding the world,
asks Pearce. Indeed far from solving the problem, he argues,
landgrabbing is having a greater impact on the lives of poor people than
climate change. People are invariably cleared from the land when
foreign investors lease or are given ‘state-owned’, but usually common
Ethiopia sells off good land The book starts in Ethiopia, where the government intends to
lease three million hectares to foreign investors by 2015. Much of this
land is in one of the poorest, most underdeveloped parts of the country.
It sets up the issues well, highlighting the irony of a country so
often plagued by drought handing over its best land to foreign
businesses intending to develop it for profit, rather than feed the
With half the world’s poor and hungry living on small farms, how
can it make sense to take away their land in the context of feeding the
The situation in Ethiopia also illustrates the huge environmental
catastrophe caused by many landgrabs – much of the land buy-ups are
threatening one of the biggest and most important animal migration
routes in Africa.
A quick side-step takes the reader to the Middle East, to Saudi
Arabia. Armed with technological know-how and billions of petrol dollars
the Saudis have turned desert into pasture. Tapping on an underground
reservoir, the desert sand has been transformed into lush fields
supporting the world’s largest diary farm, and millions of hectares have
been turned over to wheat, to such a level that Saudi is now one of the
world’s biggest exporters of grain.
The trapped underground water is, however, a finite resource, which
like the country’s oil is rapidly running dry. And so the agri-rich
princes and sultans have turned their focus abroad buying up land in
Sudan, in Egypt, in Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Pakistan.
It is the same all over the Middle East, from Qatar to the UAE. And
it is not only petrol-rich Arabs that are buying up land. In South Sudan
it is a Wall Street investor who has bought land from an alleged war
Tapping on an underground reservoir the sand has been turned into lush pasture supporting the world’s largest diary farm.
In Kenya we meet the do-gooder – an American agriculture
entrepreneur, whose Christian evangelicalism has brought him to Africa.
Here a plan to drain swampland to create a huge farm intended to bring
prosperity to the area is moving apace. Sure enough, many workers are
happy and prospering. Bicycles and tin roofs have proliferated since
Calvin Burgess arrived. Bankers and a shopping complex have opened in
the nearby town, and poverty has dropped from 85% to 60%.
But the seeming success also illustrates how nothing in this story is
black or white. On the other side of the fence to the farm, Pearce
finds hardship and anger. Villagers claim their common pasture lands
have been taken from them, that crocodiles have become a problem since
they have been trapped downstream by a large weir constructed by the
company, and there are even allegations that locals need permission from
the farm to travel down what seems to be a public road.
And so the reader is taken around the globe. To Liberia, where an
estimated $16bn (£10.3bn) of investment has flowed in from abroad since
2005. To Ukraine, where despite regulations banning the sale of farmland
to foreigners, $8bn has been spent on land leases betwen 2008 and 2010.
The other Amazon In Brazil, the government has done well to tide the onslaught
on the Amazon, but it has ignored the plight of another environmental
treasure – the great plains of the cerrado. This area, as rich in
biodiversity as the Amazon, is being ploughed up by soya businesses.
In Paraguay, a remote and important forest is being lost at a rate of
a thousand hectares a day, or a soccer pitch every 90 seconds. In Papua
New Guinea, loggers are penetrating one of the most unexplored areas on
the planet. In Cambodia, a European incentive that allows the world’s
poorest countries to export unlimited quantities of certain goods to the
EU with zero tariffs has resulted in thousands of people being thrown
off their land in favour of sugar growers. In Laos, traditional rice
fields are being replaced with giant Chinese rubber plantations.
The catastrophic situation in Indonesia is left until two-thirds of
the way through the book. It is a well-told tale. But in the context of
the pages that have gone before the extent of the destruction of the
rich rainforest by paper and plywood manufacturers still hits home.
In Paraguay a remote and important forest is being lost at a
rate of a thousand hectares a day, or a soccer pitch every 90 seconds.
Even Australia, a country that is hugely protective of its land, has
seen millions of hectares fall into the hands of foreigners as
Australian landowners struggling against drought and frozen credit lines
have taken the foreign buck.
It is not all slash and burn. In his trek across the continents of
the world, Pearce does find a handful of examples of good land
management where foreign investment has brought relative prosperity to
the local population and where sustainability has been considered. In
Liberia, for example, British farm manager Peter Bayliss seems to be
doing a good job. And in Patagonia Pearce finds a large area of land
bought up by a number of green-minded super-rich intent on preserving a
wild, empty backwater of the world.
Green wash But even ‘green landgrabs’ are not all good. In Tanzania,
Pearce describes the plight of the Maasai, who are largely banned from
the nature reserves that take in their tribal lands.
Landgrabbers is a well-paced and thorough examination of the
situation on the ground. It is packed with case studies and in the most
part rather depressing statistics. But in his desire to cover the global
extent of the problem, Pearce’s trek becomes a bit of a catalogue that
never quite gets to grips with the drivers.
It starts with the premise that this is a ‘new fight over who owns
the earth’, and yet time after time examples are drawn upon where land
has been in foreign hands for decades. Clearly this is not a new
phenomenon. Campaigners have been highlighting the fate of the Amazon
for years, for example.
What seems to be new is the scale. But then from the beginning Pearce
says that nobody really knows how much land has been lost to rich
corporations and individuals since the food crisis of 2008, and he makes
no attempt to quantify it.
He also fails properly to answer the question of why the sudden rush
has occurred. There is a short chapter on market speculation, where
Pearce states boldly that ‘hedge funds and anonymous investment houses
and asset managers have driven much of the Western-funded landgrabbing
to date. But even bigger than the hedge funds are the pension funds,
with their trillions of dollars of assets.’ But the book does not
examine who these hedge funds, anonymous investment houses, and pension
funds are, bar a handful of examples. The numerous case studies cited
in chapter after chapter are corporations or rich individuals.
But the book’s launch is well timed. Just last week US Pension
giant TIAA-CREF announced it had raised $2bn to invest in land. And
earlier this year the UN proposed countries should set a limit on
agriculture land sales in an attempt to limit landgrabs. Pearce may not
have nailed the size of the problem or the City pot pouring into land,
but he certainly highlights what has been described as ‘the biggest
swindle of the 21st century’.
"The term “imagination” in what I take to be its truest sense refers to a
mental faculty that some people have used and thought about with the
utmost seriousness. The sense of the verb “to imagine” contains the full
richness of the verb “to see.” To imagine is to see most clearly,
familiarly, and understandingly with the eyes, but also to see inwardly,
with “the mind’s eye.” It is to see, not passively, but with a force of
vision and even with visionary force. To take it seriously we must give
up at once any notion that imagination is disconnected from reality or
truth or knowledge. It has nothing to do either with clever imitation of
appearances or with 'dreaming up.' It does not depend upon one’s
attitude or point of view, but grasps securely the qualities of things
seen or envisioned."
The farmer-writer Wendell Berry will deliver the 41st annual Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities announced on Monday. The lecture, to be given on April 23 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, is considered the federal government’s most prestigious honor for intellectual achievement in the humanities. READ THE NYTimes ARTICLE
My first (and by far the greatest) professor of entomology had a passionate love for the Hemiptera, the music of Johannes Brahms and writings of Charles Dickens. My only contact with Dickens had been in junior high and high school. Though I can't say I hated the reading we did, it left no lasting memory. But when Carl Schaefer many years later convinced me to try Dickens again it was with a sense of wonder that I discovered the many pleasures of his enormous output. I began with Bleak House, loved it, and immediately set about reading all of his novels, in chronological order (with the sole exceptions of the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood and the, I think, unreadable The Old Curiosity Shoppe). Thus began a few years of memorable delight. This might be a good time for others to take up the challenge. Listen to the piece on Dickens on NPR here.
In his Introduction to the book, Raúl Zurita writes: “These poems display a carnal, erotic version of the never-exhausted Neo-Platonic theme of perfect love achieved by two beings to erase all the physical and mental distance between them ... a merger not only of bodies searching for each other but of language itself ... as if the poems would like to devour themselves in a grand sexual act in which culture, eroticism and nature would once and for all erase their borders.”
Grace of its linguistic and visionary commitment, its capacity to
imagine what is perforce outside experience, Zurita has written a poetry
that surpasses what a more politically committed poetry could have
achieved. Zurita’s poems might be figured as an eco-poetry in which the
space between nature and history is closed up, once we realize that the
work reimagines the entirety of the ocean in such a way as to include
those thrown from planes into that ocean. And reimagines the mountains
in such a way as to include the Disappeared thrown from planes into
their snows until one can only speak of those mountains as containing
those people. And renders the desert no longer conceivable except if the
voices and the deaths in the desert are made a part of that desert. It
was Camille Dungy, the editor of the anthology Black Nature: Four Centuries of African-American Nature Poetrywho pointed out in her CCP appearance (#221)
that the poets in her book do not necessarily view a tree as simply a
tree, since it might also be the case that someone was lynched from that
particular tree; they do not look at an agricultural site as an idyl,
since one’s ancestors might have worked that land in slavery. Indeed,
only certain privileged, bourgeois perspectives can divorce “nature”
from “history” in order to yield a “nature poetry” that refreshes us in
its aftermath. I have argued that to view Nature apart from other
discourses and entities (like language for example) is analogous to the
pornographic (without taking any position pro or con on pornography),
where one function (Nature) is fetishized and isolated from other
functions and possibilities (as sex is in pornography). By contrast to a
nature poetry, an eco-poetics seeks out complicated interrelationships
between multiple modes of the sensual. Zurita’s is one of the great
poetries to overcome the artificiality of the nature/history
distinction, to give us the Tree and the invisible histories enacted in
and around the Tree, as Dungy calls for.