Gardening #3 (why it can be ‘green’, sometimes)

In my previous post I pointed out that gardening is not necessarily a ‘green’ activity. It can be just as much a shopping opportunity as anything else, it can leave a wider footprint than you might expect.

A quick digression

For example, in my own efforts with the TSRB (tiny snail-ridden backyard), I’ve got to the point where I feel like I could just about imagine taking on an allotment (especially if I shared it). There are plenty of very local allotments – but with gigantic waiting lists. There are also plenty of immediately available allotments – but on the other side of the city. That makes a big difference: I could take on an allotment next season but it would have to be on an easy bus or cycle route and I’d need a regular, firm, block of time which would have to be reserved purely for work on it – no nipping out in the odd spare hour when I fancy it, no copping out when I don’t fancy it.

At this point all normal, right-thinking people will say “well silly you, just get a car, like everyone else! If it hurts your self-respect so much to buy one, then use a car club”. After all, my few years of driving, back in the last century, occurred because I was playing a lot of gigs, so I have in the past owned a car in order to facilitate engagement with a serious and noble activity and surely growing food is just as serious as music? Ah but the difference is that this time you are suggesting that in order to increase my personal sustainability in one area I should reduce it in another.

A not uncommon dilemma, btw. I’ve talked about another example in one of my interminable posts about flying (especially this one, from about halfway down and footnote 4).

(a digression from the digression

Not everyone even recognizes that extra car use reduces overall sustainability or is problematic. I once heard Lynn Sloman, author of car sick, make the comment that their car use is almost invisible to many greenies – almost as if it doesn’t count because it is the noble steed from which they conduct their activism (that last bit was not Lynn’s way of putting it btw). I was rather surprised to hear this, but this was probably because I didn’t know many enviros personally at that point. I’ve been watching carefully since, and you know, I think she’s right. Outside the specialised world of sustainable transport campaigners, it often doesn’t seem to register as a problem – well of course you need a car to facilitate your engagement with nature. Or rather, you need a car because you are special and ethical. But I’m not special and ethical so I’m not going to start driving in order to access an allotment and so, no, I probably won’t be getting one (well, ok, there are a few other reasons as well, but I am starting to wish I had a bit more garden to muck around with, and this is a real discussion I’m having with myself).

End of digressions!

Don’t give ”gardening”, without qualification, a free pass. But obviously, low-cost, thoughtful gardening is indeed a pretty “eco” thing to do and I’m glad that I’ve finally got to grips with it, even in a small way, even as a mere “garden-themed science project”. Here’s why I consider it worthwhile.

Any practical skill is worth having, for purely functional reasons.

You never know when it might come in handy. Self-sufficiency is completely out of the question, however you define it. It won’t save you money, at least not to begin with, and probably not much even once established. But … can I be entirely sure that the current situation, where there is food of any kind, at any season, from anywhere in the world, easily obtainable and affordable, will continue throughout the rest of my lifetime? This situation might well continue – I’m certainly not expecting the sky to fall in tomorrow, or next year, or ever, because that’s a silly image anyway. But I do think that the argument that we (and “we” means the whole world, with us anglophones in the lead) are well embarked on a gradual downward slide is not a foolish one and could well be, broadly, true . That discussion will eventually be the topic of a whole post to itself.

Any practical skill is worth having, for purely psychological reasons.

It makes you feel good to be able to do things. Real things – involving your body and mind (gardening involves not just digging, clipping and lugging but also considerable amounts of planning, deduction, and imagination), and, to get completely pompous about it, we are the kind of creature that needs to use both. This connects with the previous point. Sure, maybe there never will be any sort of food crisis in my lifetime or beyond, but knowing that if there were to be, I’m set to be a teeny part of the answer is a good feeling. If one feels helpless, then one is helpless.

Any practical skill is worth having, for purely social reasons.

You have something else to talk about. You have surplus to give people, which creates goodwill, and maybe they give you some of their surplus too, but it feels like more than mere exchange. Though it wasn’t quite how Ivan Illich meant the phrase, gardening is a tool for conviviality.

Those all sound pretty ‘green’ to me.

And then of course, there is what you actually learn from the attempt to grow edible stuff. Next time.

Oh all right, if you insist

Yeah, ok, my election prediction. Which is:

Record low turnout.

(With possible exception of Bristol West, where I live, which might just possibly do a Brighton Pavilion and elect a Green).

Because we’re all fed up.

******

Update: 9:00 am Thursday

Well it seems my prediction could well be wrong.

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Update: a few days later

ok, never accept a political prediction from me. Maybe I just need more practice.

 

 

Gardening #2 (is it “green”?)

Is gardening a “green behaviour” anyway? Not necessarily!

I regard it as a recycling and repurposing opportunity (all sorts of throwaway items turn out to have potential garden uses, that’s part of the satisfaction) but buying a few things is unavoidable. So I’ve trotted along to my local garden centre and my local Wilkos. From this it is very clear that gardening can also function as a shopping opportunity.

For example it turns out you can buy specially made little plastic nubkins to pop on top of your canes so that you don’t accidentally poke your eye out when bending down to look at your plants. The principle is a good one but it takes no ingenuity whatsoever to make your canes safe with corks, or plastic bottle tops, or chunkettes of expanded polystyrene, or old drinks bottles or whatever. Plastic whatsits are also available to join canes (also available in plastic) together when constructing wigwams for climbing beans – but but but, you know … string for goodness sake. But not only are these gizmoids sold, but someone somewhere must have designed them, someone whose employer was trying to expand the number of things that could be sold to people.

Which is fine, I suppose, because that’s how the world now works – flogging stuff to people – and heaven forbid that anyone should call me “anti-business” (whatever that’s supposed to mean – like “luddite” and “anti-car” it’s just another meaningless boo-word), but these plastic fubbles do not add any real functionality above corks and string. Presumably some people do buy them, but why?

More money than time? So you think “I’ll get into gardening!” which is at root a wholly positive, wonderful, and green urge, and, as one does at the start of projects, one gathers together materials. The gathering together of equipment and materials feels like a part of project itself, feels like an active sort of doing something, making a start. But this can be deceptive because what can happen is that one’s enthusiasm becomes displaced onto shopping – especially as shopping is not a new activity but a wholly familiar one, and one which takes place in a familiar and predictable environment. And shopping is fun, yes I know that: it can create quite a gratifying sense of directedness and autonomy. Kind of: “Ok, got my list, got my shopping trolley, all set to go, I need these and these and better get more of these … and oh, look – those will be useful, and ooh, I like the look of that, and ummm maybe instead of bamboo canes I’ll get those plastic ones because they won’t splinter, and …”

So you feel like you’ve done something. But in fact, so far, you haven’t done anything at all except fulfil your social role as ‘consumer’. You have not moved one inch closer to the benefits that you can expect from a bit of gardening: no closer to perfectly fresh food, no time spent outside, no physical exertion, no social capital from being able to talk about gardening with other gardeners, and certainly no true feelings of greater connection with the natural world.

And when (or possibly if) you actually do get going, there will arise a further set of consumer opportunities in the purchase of overspecc’d tools and equipment (power tools make sense for professional gardeners, and so – perhaps – do heavyweight pesticides for farmers, but it doesn’t make you a better gardener to use the tools used by professionals because there are questions of appropriateness, of understanding).

Oh dear, this is going to be like the flying thing isn’t it? I start out with a plan of a couple of posts and it just drags on and on and on … and I also appear to be a darker shade of green than I wish. So anyway, why can “growing a few veg” be counted as “green behaviour”? I’ll do that one next time.

Gardening #1 (intro)

Back in November 2015, shortly after starting this blog (which in reality is no time at all, even though, in delusory internet-time, it is so long ago as to be not even worth mentioning), I laid out a list of my personal green behaviours. Not as a boast, (no really, not even a “humblebrag”) but as a starting point for further discussion on wider environmental issues. One of those green behaviours was “I’ve started growing a few veg”.

I have a tiny, snail-ridden backyard, half of which is paved (and paved over what I think must be a filled-in basement, because there is no depth of soil beneath), and half which is an – ahem – “wildlife garden” – that’s to say it’s covered in comfrey and comfrey-loving critters (bees!) I did make some early attempts to dig this over and plant stuff in it. ‘Stuff’ certainly germinated – the soil seems very fertile (you should see the size of the worms) – but was almost instantly devoured by snails. So I’ve mostly left the comfrey to get on with it, and am growing in containers on the paved bit, using my two small south-facing windowsills as the ‘greenhouse’.

Actually, I think what I’ve been doing for the last three years is not so much “gardening” more of a “garden-themed science project”. There’s so much basic stuff about the physical world that has demonstrated itself to me – including things I “knew” but didn’t really know. I’m going to spread my gardening discussion out into a number of posts and one of them will give a list of these “experimental findings” but before I get to that, I have to ask if “gardening” is necessarily a “green behaviour” at all …

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It is against the rules to write a blog post mentioning the word “garden” without a photo, so here you go:

Taken yesterday. Those tomatoes have *flowers* on them. Which means I could get fruit in *May*. Hah!

Taken yesterday. Those tomatoes have *flowers* on them. Which means I could get fruit in *May*. Hah!

Quote

Reframing travel

From David Fleming’s Lean logic, which I’m currently plodding through. It’s under the entry for Localisation, and struck me (a) because it’s a good example of reframing as a rhetorical technique and (b) in a series of previous posts I’ve banged on at length about travel.

Localisation stands [in current cirumstances],  at the limits of practical possibility, but it has the decisive argument in its favour that there will be no alternative. Does that mean the end of travel? On the contrary, it means the end of mass dislocation – and the recovery of place. Travel now finds its purpose, taking you to a place which is not in essentials identical to the one you have left, but to one which is interesting and finds you interesting, that wants to hear your song, that dances to a different tune.

Thoughts on communication #6 (escalation)

Online communication* tends to foster certain, ahem, negative behaviour which make it often a rather bruising experience. My current online hangout is the members’ forum of the Green Party and even that bunch of mild-mannered people has given rise to a couple of barroom brawls in the short time I’ve been watching it (one of the brawls prompted this post).

I know only too well why people behave the way they do online – in Jaron Lanier’s phrase, I have met my Inner Troll. Therefore I’m mainly interested in the question: what can I personally do about the things I’m complaining about? One thing I can do is the be aware of the inbuilt tendency towards unintentional escalation and try to make allowances for it.

Escalation

Online disputation in which there are two clear “sides” can result in both sides claiming that the other side is bullying them – and both sides seeming to be right in that claim.  There’s a very interesting article by the social psychologist Daniel Gilbert about this – basically that we try to give an equally-weighted response to any perceived ‘attack’ but that we are rubbish at judging this accurately and end up responding with an escalated attack, to which our opponent tries to respond equally, but in fact misjudges and escalates … it’s worth reading (despite the bad formatting) because it refers to actual experiments.

 

*and I’ve been watching it for longer than most: first e-mail lists, then webpages, then blog comments, then forums and now, from a distance, through binoculars, the sheer ghastliness that is twitter.