- Written by: Kamran Mofid
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N.B. Not long ago, a few months back, I posted an article under the title ‘Detaching Nature from Economics is ‘Burning the Library of Life’. I would like to recall a couple of passages from it, refreshing and focusing our minds on what I am about to share with you.
David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo deploys silence as a sign of something amiss in the world around us:
‘We are facing a global crisis. We are totally dependent upon the natural world. It supplies us with every oxygen-laden breath we take and every mouthful of food we eat. But we are currently damaging it so profoundly that many of its natural systems are now on the verge of breakdown. Every other animal living on this planet, of course, is similarly dependent. But in one crucial way, we are different. We can change not just the numbers, but the very anatomy of the animals and plants that live around us. We acquired that ability, doubtless almost unconsciously, some ten thousand years ago, when we had ceased wandering and built settlements for ourselves. It was then that we started to modify other animals and plants…
‘Economics is a discipline that shapes decisions of the utmost consequence, and so matters to us all. The Dasgupta Review at last puts biodiversity at its core and provides the compass that we urgently need. In doing so, it shows us how, by bringing economics and ecology together, we can help save the natural world at what may be the last minute- and in doing so, save ourselves.’...Detaching Nature from Economics is ‘Burning the Library of Life’
Today, whilst researching this topic further, I came across a very interesting and timeless article by a fellow Canadian academic, which truly captured my eyes and imagination. I began to read. It was music to my ears. It very much resonated with me. The more I read, the more I realised that I could not improve it.
I believe it can indeed be an excellent follow-up to my own piece, noted above.
So there you have it: ‘Beauty Will Save the World’, by Prof. Heather Eaton, Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Canada/Via Counterpoint, 30 June 2021
Beauty Will Save the World
‘The official birth flowers for July are larkspurs, signifying happiness and love.’
Picture credit and more: My Poem of the Month: July is the Month Happiness, Purity, Beauty and Creation
‘This famous and much discussed phrase from Prince Lev Nikolyaevich Myshkin in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot is that beauty will save the world. Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrestled with the enigmatic idea in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1970. It is the title of numerous books and articles on classical art, theological/religious aesthetics, and the natural world. Many are mesmerized with this phrase, idea, image, or desire. Beauty will save the world. Hard to believe, yet is an intriguing union of ethics and aesthetics.
‘My interest here is not about art, philosophy, or religions. It is not particularly lofty. It is about beauty, mostly in the natural world, and how it transforms the self. Throughout my life, from a young child to now, (just a few years) the intricacies of nature—the incredible presence(s), and dazzling, deep, vibrant, and dynamic beauty—have often seized my attention and time. I have had remarkable, profound, and transformative experiences within nature. I have trekked to mountain vistas, caves, canyons, and waterways; sailed for weeks in the wind, waves, and silence of the Atlantic ocean; watched whales and swam with sharks; studied elephants in South Africa, Botswana, and Kenya; camped in the African bush and Canadian forests; and canoed wilderness waterways. I am acutely cognisant of these incredible privileges. Further, such experiences are the energy, and companions, and often reasons, that have propelled and sustained over thirty years of environmental work.
‘Of course there are terrifying, exhilarating, demanding, and dreadful experiences of the natural world. Many lives are filled with endless effort to survive, and now, on a diminished planet. Climate change is inducing fires, drought, storms, and immeasurable losses; countless ecosystems and species are struggling to adapt, or just live. It is difficult to offer a reflection about beauty, and how beauty is transformative, without seeming to be callous and uncritical of privilege, or oblivious to ecological stress and anthropogenic climate change. But, in one sense, that is the point of this reflection: to remind us that there is sublime beauty, usually not far, and it can be restorative, or at least offer reprieve or respite.
‘Like many others, my last year has been lived very locally. Attending to this locus vitae (local life) has expanded and strengthened my interest in the claim that beauty will save the world. Where I live (Ottawa, Canada), the seasons are distinct and authoritative, from -40 (C/F) to +40 C (104 F). People have been unable to travel far during COVID times, with severe long-term lockdowns in most of Canada. The consequences are that the outdoor spaces have been overrun with new nature lovers (interfering in the solace of those who savour the quiet). Yet, it is noteworthy that people are ‘discovering’ the natural world. A further discovery, for many, is that birds exist. Birdwatching has become an epidemic, one could say. I too succumbed to birdwatching, with now four feeders in my (small) backyard. And they came: songbirds, flocking birds and couples, solitary Blue Jays, and the bullies—Grackles and Starlings. Another COVID induced outbreak has been backyard and balcony gardening. I also try to grow flowers that provide gorgeous colors and scents, in addition to their ecosystem duties. This brings with it a renewed awareness of the balm of beauty and the vitality of the locus vitae.
‘What is required is attentiveness, quiet, discretion, and observation. Nature is never static. Life is animate. Colours dance from sunrise to sunset. Vegetation bends with the wind. Flowers develop from germination to blossoming to regeneration, always on the move. Birds flit. They are private and uninterested in humans, as are many—most—other species. Insects are busy…’-Continue to read
Related Posts from our GCGI Archive
Photo: Via Sustainability Times
Nature to Heal the World
Yes, its true: We can heal ourselves, we can build a better world if we set our mind to it,
if we let nature to be our wise teacher and the source of our inspiration
Together, We Hold the Future in Our Hands
We must not fail our children and grandchildren. We must do the right thing. We must save the web of life
'Be in love with life and the living and the world will be a better place.'- Kamran Mofid
Photo Credit: Kamran Mofid, Roses from our garden, Coventry, July 2021
- Written by: Kamran Mofid
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What can we learn from birds, according to William Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Tables Turned’?
Yes, indeed, we can learn how to be wise from birds. By listening to the sweet music of the woodland linnet
or hearing how the throstle sings, we can let Nature be our Wisest Teacher.
‘The greatest wisdom comes from the smallest creatures. There is so much we can learn from birds.
Through twenty-two little lessons of wisdom inspired by how birds live,
this charming French book will help you spread your wings and soar.’
‘We often need help from those smaller than us. Having spent a lifetime watching birds, Philippe and Élise – a French ornithologist and a philosopher – draw out the secret lessons that birds can teach us about how to live, and the wisdom of the natural world. Along the way you’ll discover why the robin is braver than the eagle, what the arctic tern can teach us about the joy of travel, and whether the head or the heart is the best route to love (as shown by the mallard and the penguin). By the end you will feel more in touch with the rhythms of nature and have a fresh perspective on how to live the fullest life you can.’
About the Authors
Philippe J. Dubois is an ornithologist and writer. He has been passionate about birds since he was a boy, and has travelled the world birdwatching. He is the author of a number of works on climate change and biodiversity and was the head of Delachaux and Niestlé, the oldest nature books publishing house in France.
Élise Rousseau has degrees in Literature and Philosophy, and is a journalist and author of several works on nature and animals. She has spent several years working to protect animals.
'Brilliant, magical and engrossing – I will never see birds the same way again.'- Peter Wohlleben, bestselling author of THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES
'A little gem. So much wisdom to be drawn from the feathered world of birds.' ― Raynor Winn, bestselling author of THE SALT PATH
'A charming, witty and thought-provoking look at the way bird behaviour can both reflect and influence the way we live our lives.' ― Stephen Moss (Naturalist and author)
'This little book does a beautiful job of inspiring awe for the capacities of birds and applying lessons from their lives to the struggles of humanity.' ― Wall Street Journal
It Takes a Wise Bird to Show Us the Path
Simorgh: Thirty Birds
The Wise Mythical Bird of Persia
‘In the famous epic Persian poem "Conference of the Birds," the birds of the world gather to decide who is to be their king. The hoopoe, the wisest of them all, suggests that they should find the legendary Simorgh, a mythical Persian bird. The hoopoe leads the birds, each of whom represent a human fault which prevents man from attaining enlightenment. When the group of thirty birds finally reach the dwelling place of the Simorgh, all they find is a lake in which they see their own reflection. They realize that they were the Simorgh (which in Persian literally means "thirty birds") all along. The leader they sought was each and every one of them.’
The Conference of the Birds - Simorgh, portrayed by Attar, The Persian Sufi Sage and Poet
Conference of the Birds.- Photo: images-amazon.com
‘Hundreds of birds embark on a perilous journey across seven treacherous valleys in search of a king who can right the wrongs in their world. They are led by the poet Attar, who has been transformed into a sharp-beaked, crested hoopoe. The troubles that spur them into flight — "Anarchy — discontent — upheaval! Desperate fights over territory, water, and food! Poisoned air! Unhappiness!" — are of course all too familiar in our world.’
Stop, Look and Listen:
Learn from the Wise and Listen to the Birds
How to Read a Bird: A smart guide to what birds do and why
Photo and info: How to Read a Bird: A smart guide to what birds do and why
12 Birds to Save Your Life: Nature's Lessons in Happiness
Photo and info: 12 Birds to Save Your Life: Nature's Lessons in Happiness
- Written by: Kamran Mofid
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That nobleman was George Perkins Marsh (March 15, 1801 – July 23, 1882), an American diplomat and philologist, considered by many to be America's
first environmentalist and an early advocate for wilderness conservation and sustainability.
‘On September 30, 1847, Congressman George Perkins Marsh delivered a speech on agricultural conditions in New England to the Agricultural Society of Rutland County, Vermont. This powerful address gave voice to ideas that would become a catalytic force in the movement to conserve America’s natural resources. Marsh recognized the human capacity for destruction of the environment and advocated better management of resources and active efforts toward restoration of the land—innovative ideas for the period.
‘But though man cannot at his pleasure command the rain and the sunshine, the wind and frost and snow, yet it is certain that climate itself has in many instances been gradually changed and ameliorated or deteriorated by human action.’+
His Book- Man and Nature, first published in 1864 was perhaps a century ahead of its time,
when and where he emphatically made the case that man was doing great damage to the environment.
‘The 1847 lecture that predicted human-induced climate change.’
Leo Hickman, Via The Guardian
‘When we think of the birth of the conservation movement in the 19th century, the names that usually spring to mind are the likes of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau, men who wrote about the need to protect wilderness areas in an age when the notion of mankind's "manifest destiny" was all the rage.
But a far less remembered American - a contemporary of Muir and Thoreau - can claim to be the person who first publicised the now largely unchallenged idea that humans can negatively influence the environment that supports them.
George Perkins Marsh (1801-1882) certainly had a varied career. Here's how Clark University in Massachusetts, which has named an institute in his memory, describes him:
Throughout his 80 years Marsh had many careers as a lawyer (though, by his own words, "an indifferent practitioner"), newspaper editor, sheep farmer, mill owner, lecturer, politician and diplomat. He also tried his hand at various businesses, but failed miserably in all - marble quarrying, railroad investment and woolen manufacturing. He studied linguistics, knew 20 languages, wrote a definitive book on the origin of the English language, and was known as the foremost Scandinavian scholar in North America. He invented tools and designed buildings including the Washington Monument. As a congressman in Washington (1843-49) Marsh helped to found and guide the Smithsonian Institution. He served as US Minister to Turkey for five years where he aided revolutionary refugees and advocated for religious freedom. He spent the last 21 years of his life (1861-82) as US Minister to the newly United Kingdom of Italy.
In other words, he kept himself busy. But I would argue his defining moment came on 30 September, 1847, when, as a congressman for the Whig party (a forerunner of the Republican party), he gave a lecture to the Agricultural Society of Rutland County, Vermont. (The speech was published a year later.) It proved to be the intellectual spark that led him to go on and publish in 1864 his best-known work, Man and Nature: Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action.
More than 160 years on, it really does pay to re-read his speech as it seems remarkably prescient today. It also shows that he was decades ahead of most other thinkers on this subject. After all, he delivered his lecture a decade or more before John Tyndall began to explore the thesis that slight changes in the atmosphere's composition could cause climatic variations. And it was a full half a century before Svante Arrhenius proposed that carbon dioxide emitted by the "enormous combustion of coal by our industrial establishments" might warm the world (something he thought would be beneficial).
Yes, in his speech, Marsh talks about "civilised man" and "savages" – and the language is turgid in places – but let's cut him a little slack: this was 1847, after all. It's about halfway through he gets to the bit that matters most to us today:
Man cannot at his pleasure command the rain and the sunshine, the wind and frost and snow, yet it is certain that climate itself has in many instances been gradually changed and ameliorated or deteriorated by human action. The draining of swamps and the clearing of forests perceptibly affect the evaporation from the earth, and of course the mean quantity of moisture suspended in the air. The same causes modify the electrical condition of the atmosphere and the power of the surface to reflect, absorb and radiate the rays of the sun, and consequently influence the distribution of light and heat, and the force and direction of the winds. Within narrow limits too, domestic fires and artificial structures create and diffuse increased warmth, to an extent that may effect vegetation. The mean temperature of London is a degree or two higher than that of the surrounding country, and Pallas believed, that the climate of even so thinly a peopled country as Russia was sensibly modified by similar causes.
Some of the terminology he uses is clearly a little archaic to our ears today, but, broadly speaking, his hunch has subsequently proved to be correct. You can see him grappling with concepts that we now know as the urban heat island effect and greenhouse effect.
But in the speech he also called for a more thoughtful approach to consuming natural resources, despite the apparent near-limitless abundance on offer across the vast expanses of northern America. As the Clark University biography notes, he wasn't an environmental sentimentalist. Rather, he believed that all consumption must be reasoned and considered, with the impact on future generations always kept in mind: he was making the case for what we now call "sustainable development". In particular, he argued that his audience should re-evaluate the worth of trees:
'The increasing value of timber and fuel ought to teach us that trees are no longer what they were in our fathers' time, an incumbrance. We have undoubtedly already a larger proportion of cleared land in Vermont than would be required, with proper culture, for the support of a much greater population than we now possess, and every additional acre both lessens our means for thorough husbandry, by disproportionately extending its area, and deprives succeeding generations of what, though comparatively worthless to us, would be of great value to them.
The functions of the forest, besides supplying timber and fuel, are very various. The conducting powers of trees render them highly useful in restoring the disturbed equilibrium of the electric fluid; they are of great value in sheltering and protecting more tender vegetables against the destructive effects of bleak or parching winds, and the annual deposit of the foliage of deciduous trees, and the decomposition of their decaying trunks, form an accumulation of vegetable mould, which gives the greatest fertility to the often originally barren soils on which they grow, and enriches lower grounds by the wash from rains and the melting snows.
The inconveniences resulting from a want of foresight in the economy of the forest are already severely felt in many parts of New England, and even in some of the older towns in Vermont. Steep hill-sides and rocky ledges are well suited to the permanent growth of wood, but when in the rage for improvement they are improvidently stripped of this protection, the action of sun and wind and rain soon deprives them of their thin coating of vegetable mould, and this, when exhausted, cannot be restored by ordinary husbandry. They remain therefore barren and unsightly blots, producing neither grain nor grass, and yielding no crop but a harvest of noxious weeds, to infest with their scattered seeds the richer arable grounds below.
But this is by no means the only evil resulting from the injudicious destruction of the woods. Forests serve as reservoirs and equalizers of humidity. In wet seasons, the decayed leaves and spongy soil of woodlands retain a large proportion of the falling rains, and give back the moisture in times of drought, by evaporation or through the medium of springs. They thus both check the sudden flow of water from the surface into the streams and low grounds, and prevent the droughts of summer from parching our pastures and drying up the rivulets which water them.
On the other hand, where too large a proportion of the surface is bared of wood, the action of the summer sun and wind scorches the hills which are no longer shaded or sheltered by trees, the springs and rivulets that found their supply in the bibulous soil of the forest disappear, and the farmer is obliged to surrender his meadows to his cattle, which can no longer find food in his pastures, and sometime even to drive them miles for water.
Again, the vernal and autumnal rains, and the melting snows of winter, no longer intercepted and absorbed by the leaves or the open soil of the woods, but falling everywhere upon a comparatively hard and even surface, flow swiftly over the smooth ground, washing away the vegetable mould as they seek their natural outlets, fill every ravine with a torrent, and convert every river into an ocean. The suddenness and violence of our freshets increases in proportion as the soil is cleared; bridges are washed away, meadows swept of their crops and fences, and covered with barren sand, or themselves abraded by the fury of the current, and there is reason to fear that the valleys of many of our streams will soon be converted from smiling meadows into broad wastes of shingle and gravel and pebbles, deserts in summer, and seas in autumn and spring.
The changes, which these causes have wrought in the physical geography of Vermont, within a single generation, are too striking to have escaped the attention of any observing person, and every middle-aged man, who revisits his birth-place after a few years of absence, looks upon another landscape than that which formed the theatre of his youthful toils and pleasures. The signs of artificial improvement are mingled with the tokens of improvident waste, and the bald and barren hills, the dry beds of the smaller streams, the ravines furrowed out by the torrents of spring, and the diminished thread of interval that skirts the widened channel of the rivers, seem sad substitutes for the pleasant groves and brooks and broad meadows of his ancient paternal domain.
If the present value of timber and land will not justify the artificial replanting of grounds injudiciously cleared, at least nature ought to be allowed to reclothe them with a spontaneous growth of wood, and in our future husbandry a more careful selection should be made of land for permanent improvement. It has long been a practice in many parts of Europe, as well as in our older settlements, to cut the forests reserved for timber and fuel at stated intervals. It is quite time that this practice should be introduced among us.
After the first felling of the original forest it is indeed a long time before its place is supplied, because the roots of old and full grown trees seldom throw up shoots, but when the second growth is once established, it may be cut with great advantage, at periods of about twenty-five years, and yields a material, in every respect but size, far superior to the wood of the primitive tree. In many European countries, the economy of the forest is regulated by law; but here, where public opinion determines, or rather in practice constitutes law, we can only appeal to an enlightened self-interest to introduce the reforms, check the abuses, and preserve us from an increase of the evils I have mentioned.’- First published in the Guardian on 20 June 2011
+George Perkins Marsh, Library of Congress
Learn more about George Perkins Marsh
See also George Perkins Marsh Institute
Man and Nature: George Perkins Marsh
Author: David Lowenthal
A lesson for our times
“George Perkins Marsh's Man and Nature was the first book to attack the American myth of the superabundance and the inexhaustibility of the earth. It was, as Lewis Mumford said, "the fountainhead of the conservation movement," and few books since have had such an influence on the way men view and use land. "It is worth reading after a hundred years," Mr. Lowenthal points out, "not only because it taught important lessons in its day, but also because it still teaches them so well...Historical insight and contemporary passion make Man and Nature an enduring classic."
‘This was the essence of a densely written book, Man and Nature; or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action, published in 1864 in New York and London. It wasn’t much anticipated, and the author, George Perkins Marsh, a former congressman from Vermont, was little known. Yet it went on to be an international bestseller, was translated into multiple languages, was repeatedly updated in expanded editions, and is now generally recognized to be one of the most important books ever published. Its arguments were a major factor in the creation of the Forest Preserve…
‘When the forest is gone, the great reservoir of moisture stored up in its vegetable mould is evaporated, and returns only in deluges of rain to wash away the parched dust into which that mould has been converted,” Marsh wrote. Springs dry up, soils erode, ecological communities deteriorate, and agriculture fails; everything dependent on the stable regime protected by forests and a reliable watershed—in other words, civilization itself—is at risk. The decline of the Roman Empire, he concluded, was at least partially attributable to “man’s ignorant disregard of the laws of nature…’-Continue to read:Desperately seeking Sophia: The Wisdom of Nature
And now a selection of similar readings from our archive for your interest
Photo: Travelpix Ltd/Getty Images, Via The Guardian
The Wisdom of Mother Nature belongs to all Life.
Let be guided and inspired by Her and Save the Web of Life
The Tree of Wisdom, Old whimsical tree in the Wicklow forest, Ireland.- Photo by Jenny Rainbow: fineartamerica.com