Category: Nature


AMDG

The power of humankind has become breathtaking.  Geologists recently claimed that we are entering a new planetary epoch called the Anthropocene. This reflects our impact on the planet, on its geology and its ecosystems, with climate change constituting a small part of this ‘human-shaping’ effect.  Beyond harnessing the power of the atom we have also discovered that we are affecting the planet in ways that we could not imagine. One of the more interesting ways of the new ‘Anthropocene’ is how we are affecting the fossil record, particularly with chicken bones. Of the 60 billion chicken that are bred and consumed a year, there are so many bones filling our landfills that it is possible we are laying interesting layers for future geologists to discover – when the planet has become vegan.  Manmade artifacts such as litter, engineering structures, old cars etc will be known as ‘technofossils’.

It seems that we are not restricted to shaping our own planet,  I have just been reading about ‘directed panspermia’.  This is the plan of seeding alien worlds with microorganisms from the earth.  We know that bacteria can survive for years in the chill of deep-space, shielded from solar radiation. So if the time-span of homo sapiens is limited on this planet some ‘visionaries’ have started looking for other homes.  The first step is to identify suitable planets, one’s that revolve around a similar size star, in the life-enabling ‘Goldilocks Zone‘ i.e. not too close and not too far away from the star it orbits.  Having identified the target planet we could then scatter photosynthesising bacteria and algae into its ‘atmosphere’…. thus preparing an atmosphere that could assist the colonisation of the planet.

Are we playing ‘God’?  Contaminating other planets in this way risks destroying life that may have evolved on the ‘host’ planet independently.  So we might be playing Shiva (the Hindu Goddess of Destruction).  There are ethical issues being debated about this form of galactic colonisation.  Nasa is pressing head with ‘The Starlight Project’ – whose focus is on how to ‘propel’ intergalactic travel.  The plans include a  Terrestrial Biome in Space which will observe how the interstellar environment and extreme acceleration affects micro-organisms as they are frozen and then thawed on arrival.  As the experiment may potentially contaminate exoplanets, NASA’s funding does not cover it.   On a more positive note – an argument can be made that this is humankind using its God-given intelligence to assume its invitation to become co-creators. Our greatest organ for survival is our brain which leads to our ability to adapt.  This could be an incredible use of our intelligence.   Others would say this is our original sinfulness, the pride of Lucifer, who reached too far and was cast out of heaven.  It may even call for a seventh chapter to Laudato Si.

AMDG

Milton Erikson,  a  psychiatrist, would ask patients who were experiencing depression to count chimneys.  It proved to be surprisingly successful.  First of all, it got people out of their houses (rather than sitting inside and letting negative thoughts rotate around their heads.  Secondly, when they were outside counting chimneys they lifted their heads up ensuring the maximum amount of daylight was entering their eyes.  This simple act would lift their spirits in a very effective way.  By forcing his patients to get out of their head and be more present to the environment a desolating spell had been broken.  This is exactly what happens every time we deliberately get out of our heads and engage with the present,  in the popular pseudo-Buddhist language it is a form of mindfulness. In the language of Pope Francis and Evangelium Gaudium, ‘Realities are more important than ideas’ 231-233.

Returning to the world of ideas, maybe the next step then would then be developing a mindfulness of gratitude – or ‘gratefulness’.  Start the day in gratefulness of a hot shower. For me, it is something that I am especially aware of when I come back from travelling, particularly in the developing world.  I find myself standing in a powerful hot shower in the morning, thinking about all that has gone into this working. It helps me start the day in a good mood, grateful for all that has gone right to put that in place, trying not to feel ‘entitled’ to have a hot shower when so many of the billions on the planet don’t have a luxury like this to start the day.  I think of friends I have lived with in India, Peru, the Philippines, East Africa all whose morning ablutions are very different.

When I am actually standing in the shower I think of where the water is from the Thames or the River Lee? What journey has it been on, from Teddington Weir or closer? How does it get to Tottenham in the first place?  All the infrastructure that comes into play to get clean water in my shower, all the thing that have to go right for it to be a reliable supply.  Then I think about the thermostat hidden away somewhere that constantly adjusts the temperature so that I’m not boiled like a lobster or frozen like a penguin, especially when someone else is using water in the building.  Having experienced a fair amount of showers that are alternately too hot or too cold, this feels like a blessing.  Then the electric pump that makes sure that high-pressure water comes out which is so refreshing.

It’s a simple exercise but a great way to start the day.

AMDG

download (1)Travelling from Nairobi to Arusha takes us through Maasailand, which straddles the border between Kenya and Tanzania.  The Maasai with their distinctive dress and beautiful jewellery are for many one of the iconic African tribes.  However their uneasy relationship with the modern world provide a fascinating lense through which to think through some of the issues around development.  The Maasai are essentially nomadic cattle herders, their herd (often cows / goats) are their wealth and are referred to as the ‘breath of life’.  It was their fierce defence of their cattle from lions and other alpha predators that led them to value courage and bravery highly. This also contributed to their reputation for being fierce warriors.  In the 18th Century – trade caravans moving inland from the east coast would cross Maasai territory with trepidation.

Maasai elder in tanzaniaWhen the British replaced the Germans as the colonial power after the First World War they were fascinated and perplexed by the Maasai.  They encouraged them to adopt European practices of education and medicine but also wanted them to keep their traditional culture, moving them and hoping to contain them to a reserve in Southern Kenya. Sadly the Maasai were seriously weakened by the inadvertent introduction of rinderpest ( a bovine disease) which wiped out 80% of their herd.  Also weakened by inter-tribal fighting their are now estimated to be 150,000 Maasai in Kenya and an equivalent number in Tanzania.  With many now moving  away from the nomadic lifestyle they are now living in villages and have adopted more modern ranching and farming techniques. A large amount have moved to the cities of Arusha, Dodoma and Dar es Salaam where they are often employed as security guards.

Modern urban life can be quite cruel to them, often mocked and looked down upon by modern citizens of East Africa, it is notimages unusual for the Maasai to live a sort of double life – some time spent back in their villages in traditional dress and then moving into the cities and working in western dress. Uneasily straddling these two cultures….. modernity, mobile phones, wages and bank accounts on one hand, or spears, jewellery, traditional dress and bartering.  Travelling along the highway which links the two countries you get tantalising glimpses into these two worlds. Also you certainly can experience some full on bartering at the border crossing of Namanga. These fleeting encounters with  Maasai give you a lot to ponder about.  Certainly the modern world has much to offer, and some of the traditional customs – the high rates of FGM are appalling, however are we not more rushed, more stressed and more unhappy?  Should we loose our traditions so quickly? With the majority of the world now living in cities, what life are we creating for ourselves? Writing this I remember a very interesting discussion with a couple of young professional Indian women in the back of rickshaw in Bangalore  who were strongly against wearing jeans.  They persuasively argued in favour of the Sari. All the indications are that the Masaai will be slowly sucked into modern urban life, at what cost?  Is this really development?