You already know my low opinions of much of what passes for conservationist thinking in the west. It is prissy and infantile, having absolutely nothing to do with an animist cultural view of the biosphere. I’m really surprised by its pervasiveness in apparently pagan corners of the magical world. The movement and thinking actually emerges from 18th and 19th century urban fantasies about what the natural world and bucolic farming should be like. It relies on the Romantic notion of ‘wilderness’ that does not in any way correlate with what we know about a single square foot of this living earth.
Most people don’t realise that the history of national parks and conservation areas, particularly in North America, is the story of careening from one disaster to another: Prevention of cattle running led to widespread erosion, wolf populations would dangerously increase or decrease, buffalo reintroduction would change the plant life which would decimate the bird life, and so on. Probably the only place you can point to where ‘set and forget’ conservationism almost always works is under the sea in marine reserves… perhaps because underwater biospheres historically have the least overlap with human habitats.
The reality is humans have been managing or at least engaging/interacting with the natural world in mutually beneficial ways since we first (inexplicably) appeared on the scene. The soil underneath the Brazilian Amazon is manmade. We would not have the rainforest without it. So does that make the Amazon a collection of ‘invasive’ species? Is it a bunch of weeds that we need to return to a ‘natural’ state? Australian Aborigines have been actively managing the landscape for 50,000 years.
Then there is Green Mountain, on the Royal Naval outpost of Ascension Island. Watch:
I’m surprised and dismayed by how aberrant we think this accidental miracle of imperial terraforming really is. Imperial land management is, in almost all other cases, an unmitigated disaster. But apparently that same fantasy persists at a tertiary level. To wit:
Dr Dave Wilkinson is an ecologist at Liverpool John Moores University, who has written extensively about Ascension Island’s strange ecosystem.
He first visited Ascension in 2003.
“I remember thinking, this is really weird,” he told the BBC.
“There were all kinds of plants that don’t belong together in nature, growing side by side. I only later found out about Darwin, Hooker and everything that had happened,” he said.
Dr Wilkinson describes the vegetation of “Green Mountain” – as the highest peak is now known – as a “cloud forest”. The trees capture sea mist, creating a damp oasis amid the aridity.
However, this is a forest with a difference. It is totally artificial.
‘Artificial’? Don’t ‘belong’ together ‘in nature’? What kind of fuckery is this? What is artificial about a perennial biosphere that builds its own soils, grows the local crustacean population and has grown the numbers of transatlantic migratory birds who now have a much more useful pit stop? What ‘natural’ thing did it displace at the top of a volcano with its ‘artificial’ miracle?
What about the sea life that feeds off the dramatically increased juvenile crabs? If that moves up the chain to boost Atlantic salmon numbers then you can thank Green Mountain for improved tree cover upriver in North America. (Since the postwar dam-building boom, tree cover declined in catchments that had their salmon run interrupted by dams. It turns out the birds and bears that eat the salmon then poop and/or die and return the accumulated minerals to the soil to grow trees… which catch rain which turns into water to fill the dam.)
I’m fascinated by Green Mountain because of what it could represent for my home country. It would only cost a few million to run clumping bamboo around the tops of some of our most vulnerable catchments/river basins. Even though the improved rainfall and soil would dramatically grow biodiversity the whole way down the system, it would be cock-blocked by people bleating about ‘invasive’ species.
Let me tell you about Australian ‘native’ flora. The main one is a total dick. Honestly, the eucalyptus is the asshole of the tree world. It’s poisonous to anything that grows around it, it drops leave that don’t decay but just dry out, which then catch fire and kill everything else around it, which enables it to further march across the land. Eucalypts are Nazi Ents. We have more than enough of them for the one lazy-ass species -the koala- that has managed to find a use for them. Birds, snakes, bugs… everything else pretty much use them as a last resort and infinitely prefer fruit trees or similar. The Aborigines have been battling Nazi Ents with fire for tens of millennia and it is because of them that grassland and other species were able to maintain their ecological niche. So who is ‘invasive’ here? Is it the dryland species covering subtropical or temperate land?
Here’s something to think about before you lose sleep over polar bears (currently experiencing a record population high), for instance. The single largest crop in the Lower 48 is lawn. 40 million acres. It is four time larger than the next monocrop, which is corn, at ten million acres. Four times larger than corn and Americans let that crop decide who gets to be President!
Lawn maintenance accounts for 50%-75% of domestic water use in the summer. As Jason Miller regularly points out, albeit in a different context, ‘humans are spirits too’. For animism to take its seat at the Big Table it really needs a more mature, more nuanced version of what it purports to be talking about… which is the interaction of spirits and nature. Think about that when you are watering your lawn this summer, think about that particular spirit interaction.
Cosmologies will need to be rebooted away from TPP carbon tax scams and the song from Disney’s Pocahontas and more toward the lessons of Hermes Trismegistus, where Man -a spirit, after all- co-creates Creation with God. (See Gary Lachman’s Caretakers of the Cosmos for more of this idea.) The Australian Aborigines understand this. Whoever created Brazil’s terra preta understood this. We have the opportunity to understand this.
The spirits of Green Mountain await your Call.