Archive for the ‘environmentalism’ Tag

The real Avatar

‘Mine – Story of a Sacred Mountain’ by Survival International.

Avatar

We went to see Avatar in 3D on Wednesday. It’s the story of the human colonisation of the fictional planet of Pandora, and the resistance of the native population of Na’vi (The People). The humans attempt to usurp the Na’vi on a number of fronts, including militarily and diplomatically. They genetically create Na’vi bodies (or avatars), which trained specialists can upload their consciousness to, in order to negotiate with the Na’vi and attempt to ‘educate’ them in human values and language.

Pandora is a breathtakingly beautiful planet, and rendered in high-definition 3D it’s pretty awe-inspiring. The Na’vi enjoy a close bond with their land and can access a kind of ancestral consciousness through forest network. They are experts in tracking, hunting, healing, caretaking and honourable relationship. The barbarity of the colonising attitude is at the fore throughout, but for once things don’t always go the usurpers’ way.

Avatar is well worth a view and hopefully I’ll be going back to see the IMAX 3D version before it leaves the cinemas.

Larkhill Tipis

We’ve just come back from four beautiful days at Larkhill Tipis in West Wales. Larkhill is a wonderful site run by Fran and Tony and combines a picturesque location with all the facilities you’ll need. The site is ecologically friendly from the water which is supplied from a local spring to the compost toilets.

The tipi was extremely comfortable and we cooked some lovely meals over the open fire, using some of the plentiful supplies of site-grown firewood. I took the opportunity to make some pine pitch for various projects, using pine resin, charcoal and egg shells (from the free range hens wandering around the site) to make two pitch sticks (lower right image). I used some of the pitch to haft my arrowhead on the arrow I started on Native Skills 2. It’s nearly finished and I’ll post pictures here when it’s done.

Larkhill tipi holiday

We also visited Oakwood, Castell Henllys Iron Age Hill Fort and the National Wool Museum. We hope to return to Larkhill in the future.

Not just ten days in the woods

I’ve just returned from ten days at Hazel Hill woods in Wiltshire on the Native Awareness courses Native Skills 1 and 2. Whatever expectations I had of the course were far outshone and I feel that I have developed more as a person the last ten days than I have in the previous three years, thanks to the others on the course, who by the end of the week I had come to regard as brothers and sisters. The week was like a bubble and I experienced that weird time dilation by which you feel things are passing ever so quickly and yet you struggle to remember what life was like before you were there.

Ostensibly the course focused on the various practical skills associated with survival and earth living – shelter building, friction firemaking, tracking, stalking, arrowmaking, cordage, basketry, preparing and cooking wild foods. The amount of learning that was passed on in the course of ten days was incredible. The more I learnt, however, the more I realised that these skills are not just tools of survival, they’re exercises in living in harmonious relationship with nature. The principles underpinning them cut across many disciplines. By learning about the properties of wood, bone, stone and sinew we were learning as much about ourselves and our relationships as we were about the tools of survival.

Highlights of the week for me included the drum stalk, whereby we were taken out into the woods at night and left blindfolded, having to return to the campfire using only the sound of the drum. This really made me realise how much of our perception is non-visual. The task become almost a meditation as I fell into pace with the drum, each footstep a prayer to the earth. An unintentional result of this exercise was that Emily lost her glasses during the stalk, and she and I made it our mission over the next few days to recover them (perhaps the most camouflaged glasses available for that terrain) using tracking skills, expanded awareness and personality profiling. We learnt perhaps more from this than anything else, seeing our environment with new eyes, eventually finding them by torchlight during a nighttime expedition after days of searching during the day. It seemed fitting that they were found at night around the same time the were lost, as though they were in the nighttime forest waiting for us to find them all along. A small triumph perhaps, but its elation was tangible, its excitement lasted days, and its lessons learnt and bonds forged are still with me.

Other highlights included a talk by Hanna, a wise woman in the Native American tradition, on the philosophies of awareness and relationship with the spirit that flows through all things. Skinning and gutting our own rabbits to make rabbit burgers was a lesson in gratitude and awe for the sacrifice that nature makes to feed us, and the debt we owe as caretakers of the world and each other. Watching two of the volunteers emerge from invisibility right in front of our eyes in full primitive camo was another one of many unforgettable experiences.

A pipe ceremony was another lesson to me in gratitude and the importance of not taking things for granted, for although nature provides everything we need to survive and thrive, we as humans are far from up to the task of attaining the knowledge and wisdom of how to live in harmony with it (and much, much further than our pre-agricultural ancestors). The message for me was not that we should censure ourselves too harshly for this, but that it is so important that we strive to be better, however small the steps we take, to learn more and to look after our brothers and sisters, human and non-human. The message of not taking things for granted was underlined when we went back to the kitchen area to find the electricity playing havoc. Eating dinner by candlelight was an unforeseen blessing.

I made personal connections with the others on the course that I was beginning to think I was unable to achieve. After the first few days I felt awkward and unsocialised as I am often accustomed to feel, but by the end of the week I felt at ease with, and fond of, everyone on the course. It was heartwarming to see how the group gelled and its members began to look after each other and provide the encouragement and support to allow each of us to achieve things we may never have been able to alone. The beginning of a community perhaps? … I hope so. It certainly alighted things in me that I had once known and have now come rushing to the fore with seemly infinite creative potential.

James’ and Alex’s approach to teaching these skills in that they want their students in turn to become teachers and help spread these skills, and the principles underlying them, to others. It is only by teaching these skills that we really learn them. So it was a real opportunity when on Sunday we were given the task of teaching friction firemaking to a group of conservationists also using the woods. Though nervous of our own abilities at first, by the end of the session we had taught all the participants how to make fire using the bow drill methods, two of whom managed to create a coal within an hour. Without meaning to we also managed to teach the basic principles of cordage, shelter, foxwalking and camouflage! Not only that, we had felt we had lit a spark of curiosity among them that would hopefully manifest itself again in the future. I was so proud of us, and so moved – elated and tearful at the same time.

One of the best things about the week was the chance to be childlike again, to play games, to sneak up on each other, to tease and to make games out of throwing sticks. Living in tune with nature is fun, and many indigenous tribal peoples are noted for their constant laughter and smiles.

Unfortunately my camera broke half way through the week, but I am hoping to get access to others’ pictures over the next few days, some of which I will try to post here, along with accounts of my dirt time over the coming weeks, months and years, developing my new found skills and passions.

Shortlist of Severn Estuary energy proposals

Following on from my post on the Severn barrage debate, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has announced a shortlist of five schemes, about which it will be running a three month public consultation. The proposed shortlist is as follows:

  • Cardiff Weston Barrage – crossing the Severn estuary from Brean Down, near Weston super Mare to Lavernock Point, near Cardiff (estimated capacity over 8.6GW, or nearly five per cent of UK electricity).
  • Shoots Barrage – further upstream of the Cardiff Weston scheme (1.05GW, similar to a large fossil fuel plant).
  • Beachley Barrage – smallest barrage on the proposed shortlist, just above the Wye River (625MW).
  • Bridgwater Bay Lagoon – sited on the English shore between east of Hinkley Point and Weston super Mare (1.36GW).
  • Fleming Lagoon – on the Welsh shore between Newport and the Severn road crossings (1.36GW).

It must be stressed that the consultation is not designed to decide which of these options to pursue, but instead to ascertain whether this is a relevant shortlist. DECC has at the same time announced £500,000 of new funding to develop technologies like tidal reefs and fences. The progress of these technologies will be considered before decisions are taken on the final shortlist, which will be subject to a second public consultation (probably in 2010).

Having said that, it still looks like the Cardiff Weston Barrage is the favourite, with industry lobbying heavily in spite of the potential ecological disaster. Friends of the Earth have released a statement reacting angrily to the exclusion of larger offshore tidal lagoons.

I will be taking some time to consider my response to this consultation. I will post further thoughts on here.

BBC News video

Severn barrage debate

I’m not sure where I stand on this debate. A two-year feasibility study on a possible Severn Barrage was launched last year following a report from the Sustainable Development Commission. The proposed Severn Barrage project would stretch nearly 10 miles from Lavernock Point west of Cardiff to near Brean Down in Somerset. It would cost around £14 billion.

Backers include the Welsh Assembly and the Southwest Regional Assembly, a number of cross-party MPs and Gaia theorist James Lovelock. Opponents include the Green Party, Friends of the Earth, the WWF and the RSPB.

The Friends of the Earth website explains some of the risks:

Why would the Barrage be environmentally damaging?

  • The Barrage wall would create a 5 metre deep lake to its eastward side, losing an inter-tidal habitat, feeding grounds for tens of thousands of birds
  • The Barrage would halve the tidal range and sensitive flora and fauna would be lost, and the famous Severn Bore diminished
  • The Barrage could also have a significant impact on fish species of conservation interest, through use of fish sluices within the barrage wall
  • The Barrage could significantly damage the viability of ports. It would also generate new traffic on existing road networks around Lavernock and Cardiff airport and cause development pressures in rural Somerset
  • The government’s own statutory advisers state that ‘a Severn Barrage project would not be possible within the current legal framework provided by the EU Habitats and Birds Directives. The estuary is also being proposed for designation as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), the highest protection in European Union law

It recommends a number of other means on generating energy from the Estuary, such as tidal lagoons located a mile off the Severn coast, a shorter flood defence barrage near the Second Severn Crossing, marine current turbines, wind energy or Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) fitted to coal or gas power stations.

My gut reaction is that Sabrina should be protected, that her tidal activity is the essence of her nature, and that as a result she would be desecrated by such a violation.

I have a particular interest in this issue, as the proposed Barrage would link my family home in Somerset with my chosen home in Cardiff, and Sabrina has been a constant presence throughout my life. I am also a member of the Flatholm Society, although I don’t know if they have an official view on this. I will try to find out.

The possibility of so much renewable energy is massively attractive, but not at the expense of our land and its heritage. I think the money would be better spent on education programmes teaching us how to live within our energy means, simplifying and reducing our need for energy. This, combined with a wind generation and CCS programme would be my favoured approach. While there is still so much invested in a growth economy, however, this seems doubtful.