This National Geographic news story caught my eye, since it resonates with a subject dear to my heart: modern technology vs. indigenous tradition.
It’s a little known fact that the desert oasis of Phoenix was built on an irrigation center constructed by the “millennial kingdom” of the Hohokam culture. Residents of today’s Phoenix, or San Diego, or Las Vegas can sit it climate-controlled homes and offices supplied with potable water diverted from entire river systems. But does the fact that our modern tech culture thrives on top of the remains of this and other hubs of ancient trade and infrastructure mean that our civilization is more advanced – or less vulnerable – than theirs? It’s a perennial question that is more pressing than ever now that we’re beginning to realize the serious sustainability issues faced by our own modern culture.
I have to tell you about one of my favorite websites – this one is bound to interest the Rebecca’s Wild Farm fans among my readers.
Hotel Posada del Valle is a guesthouse with organic farm & gardens, located in the Picos of Spain’s northern coast. While I haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting Asturias, it’s been fascinating to read about the development of this project by British couple Nigel & Joanne Burch, who bought and restored the property a number of years ago.
Using practical, sustainable methods of land management they have made their hardscrabble lot into an oasis of wildflower meadows, orchards, and vegetable gardens where they host travelers and tourists from all over the world. As a grower myself I can appreciate the incredible effort they make promoting renewable farm management, heritage seed & livestock varieties, and traditional practices of husbandry that have fallen by the wayside in favor of more convenient and “commercially viable” technology.
With a “work-in-progress” attitude, they’ve combined a lot of elbow grease with experienced local knowledge and a nature-first approach that respects the land and encourages renewable efforts in the community. A quick look at the results of their work give a fine example of just how rewarding and bountiful these methods are.
Their website offers some very excellent information about permaculture and sustainable farming, loaded with pictures and descriptions of their grounds and the practical concerns of maintaining them (and glimpses of the stunning coasts and mountains of Asturias). They also keep a great Blog which is updated often. Whether you’re a full-time farmer, a part-time gardener, or just a nature lover, please take a moment to look at their pages and share them with a friend.
I finally received a response from the BBC production team on the matter on whether a dvd edition of the documentary Rebecca’s Wild Farm (also A Farm for the Future) will be commercially available. They replied that at present there are no plans in motion for producing the dvd’s – but they will refer it for consideration.
I strongly encourage anyone interested to contact the BBC directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and petition for a commercial release. If they know just how much of a following this excellent resource has, it might promote a positive response.
Ski resorts using recycled sewage to produce artificial snow is not new – especially in water-poor regions. But in the San Francisco peaks outside Flagstaff, Arizona, the prospect of introducing this alternative has spawned a legal battle with the Hopi who are taking the issue to court.
To the owners of the Snowbowl resort, and the surrounding communities, the lack of water to produce artificial snow has a direct impact on the bottom line. To the Hopi Indians who have tended the land for millennia, the sacred mountains are a bulwark of refuge and purity – and blanketing them with recycled refuse for a purely commercial enterprise is not an option.
So far, the Forest Service has already approved the expansion of the resort into the surrounding wilderness reserve, and it remains to be seen if the Hopi can appeal the water issue on the grounds of environmental violations, since processed waste water contains trace pharmaceuticals and other chemical substances that would be introduced into the local environment.
The variance between indigenous and modern Western viewpoints about land runs deep, and battles like this are just a small manifestation of the chasm that has always divided them. Because the indigenous approach to decision-making in issues that affect their people is so fundamentally different, it’s hard for those living in the mainstream outside tribal society to understand why the Hopi can fight this kind of issue with the same rigor that they would oppose, for instance, the dumping of nuclear waste. What many may see as a backward, stubborn adherence to tradition is a demonstration of an ancient way of thinking that is driven by profound respect for land and resources and a careful consideration of both the principles of the past and the rights of future generations.
The resort argues that the use of non-potable water for their purposes is in the end more efficient and environmentally friendly, since they would not be diverting valuable fresh water from elsewhere. But without taking sides in the argument, it’s hard not to observe the irony of the situation:
- that an argument over water for a resort exists at all, when every day so many people around the world die of thirst;
- that the very fact that it has come down to using recycled sewage suggests that a polar playground in the middle of a desert is perhaps a ridiculously extravagant luxury.
Maybe, in our scientific day and age, truly nothing is sacred anymore. Maybe if the leisure industry did not have such a powerful pull in our over-indulged society, the scruples of the Hopi and others would have more meaning for the rest of us. And maybe the time will come when we are forced into having the same kind of respect for our resources that the ages have taught the Hopi.
The San Francisco Peaks (Hopi “Nuvatukya’ovi,” Navajo “Dookʼoʼoosłííd“)
Image: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)
Researchers blanket the sand dunes of northern China with a “microbe mesh” to quell a looming Dust Bowl.
Shapotou, on the banks of the Yellow River in northern China’s Ningxia Province, is home to one of the world’s desert wonders. The “Musical Sands” of the desolate Tengger Desert, thanks to the properties of acoustic resonance, produce an orchestra of other-worldly sounds that have spawned centuries of legends and enthralled Western tourists.
Some of the planet’s tallest dunes reside in this brutally arid region on the skirts of the Gobi Desert. But it is also home to one of the most ambitious incentives aimed at reclaiming land that has become desertified as a result of human activity.
The recent stories of China’s war with its encroaching northern deserts, and the palpable effects on its cities further south, call to mind America’s own Dust Bowl experience in the not-so-distant past. Generations’ worth of aggressive agricultural expansion depleted the soil, leading to mass erosion, and subsistence farmers graze livestock in a climate where resources are increasingly scarce. Combined with severe drought, these forces have exhausted the landscape and created an avalanche of problems that threaten far more than the area’s natural productivity.
Tiananmen Square, Beijing, 2010.
Image: BBC News: “China sandstorm leaves Beijing shrouded in orange dust”
To counteract this dilemma, Chinese researchers in the 1950’s formed the Shapotou Desert Experimental Research Station to focus on rebuilding a stable eco-system that could slow the desertification process and serve as a buffer for the country’s temperate zones. They started from the ground up – literally.
A review & critical analysis of a compendium of works by the recently departed Iroquois scholar:
“A Seneca Nation elder, thinker and activist, John Mohawk (Sotsisowah) challenged readers to reset and then reboot their value systems—to consider the obvious that we are trained in school to ignore…”
“If you want to compare notes with a man who was a thousand years old in his thinking while also a contemporary of scholars around the world, this is the book for you. It does not get more Indian than this.”
I haven’t read the book yet myself but it’s on my must-have list. It is intriguing to hear the shrewd observations of a Native person, trained in Western academia, who recognizes the relevance of his own marginalized culture’s precepts. Few people are better qualified to voice such an objective assessment of modern Western society, its environmental role, and the crossroads it which it now finds itself. What an apt time for this publication.
Yet again, National Geographic has come out with another winner. I love this series (although of course it doesn’t need my promotion)! I give it five-stars as one of the best all-around documentaries I’ve seen.
Originally released by the BBC, and presented by a very engaging and accomplished host – Scottish scientist Iain Stewart – the series showcases some stunning cinematography from all over the globe (a real plus for nature lovers) and some top-of-the-line CGI graphics.
But what fascinated me the most about this series, and Stewart’s research, is the approach of connecting human history directly with earth science. These days it’s becoming common knowledge to associate modern human activity with climate change; but he presents the geology and pivotal historical events – both globally and regionally – as a deeply intertwined continuum. Watching these episodes makes you wonder, “Why didn’t anybody think of it that way before?”
The series covers a lot of the better-known examples – such as how the over-exploitation of resources contributed to the Mayan collapse, and how the volcanic eruption at Santorini ended the Minoan civilization and ushered in the end of the Bronze Age. But some lesser-known connections are also addressed, and some astounding facts that I’d never heard before. Did you know that so much of the world’s fresh water has been dammed and contained within the industrialized nations in the Northern Hemisphere, that the displaced weight of it has slightly altered the earth’s axis?
Like many other Indian reservations in the West, the land of the Navajo Nation has long been a casualty of its rich fuel, metal, and mineral deposits. Countless corporations have been eager to capitalize on these resources – often at the expense of atrocious air and water contamination.
Among these is the Peabody Coal Company, first granted a permit in 2008. As part of its operations, Peabody was pumping around 3.3 million gallons of water per day from the Navajo aquifer to create a coal slurry that was piped to Nevada. There it helped to power the electric plants of one of the fastest-growing urban centers in the country.
Young Navajo Wahleah Johns helped to organize a community-based movement to bring an end to Peabody’s operations on the reservation. In a major victory for the Black Mesa Water Coalition, Peabody’s mining permit was repealed early 2010, meaning a new lease on life for the Nation’s only freshwater reservoir.