Saturday, February 18, 2017

False Spring #phenology

A pair of red squirrels were chasing up and down cedar trees in front of the house today. I interpret that as a clear indication mating season is underway. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources notes that late Winter is mating season for red [pine] squirrels. That means we're looking at seasonal behavior patterns and litters should be being born in late March or early April. It also helps support my most recent theory that our unseasonably warm weather is a "False Spring," rather than an early one.

red squirrel on oak branch
red squirrel on oak branch
Photo by J. Harrington

This is, in part, based on a paragraph from Donella Meadows Dancing with Systems. I need to be reminded of this fundamental premise more often than I am, several times a day would be helpful in fact, at least until I finally, actually, remember it:
"But self-organizing, nonlinear, feedback systems are inherently unpredictable. They are not controllable. They are understandable only in the most general way. The goal of foreseeing the future exactly and preparing for it perfectly is unrealizable. The idea of making a complex system do just what you want it to do can be achieved only temporarily, at best. We can never fully understand our world, not in the way our reductionistic science has led us to expect. Our science itself, from quantum theory to the mathematics of chaos, leads us into irreducible uncertainty. For any objective other than the most trivial, we can’t optimize; we don’t even know what to optimize. We can’t keep track of everything. We can’t find a proper, sustainable relationship to nature, each other, or the institutions we create, if we try to do it from the role of omniscient conqueror."
red admiral butterfly
red admiral butterfly (late Spring, early Summer, 2015)
Photo by J. Harrington

Whether we believe it or not, the world on which, and in which, we now live is a jumble of "self-organizing, nonlinear, feedback systems." Our contributions to climate change and global warming have made those systems less stable and more volatile. We have, I fear, compounded the resulting problems by recently electing someone who seems to be committed to destabilization and nonmathematical chaos in governance. Someone who may never have heard of, or consciously chooses to disbelieve and/or reject, the butterfly effect. I reach that conclusion because, these days, in too many governmental organizations, at all levels of governance, I see people who are ignoring or disregarding one of Meadows critical Rules for the Dance. She tells us to:

12. Expand the boundary of caring.

"Living successfully in a world of complex systems means expanding not only time horizons and thought horizons; above all it means expanding the horizons of caring. There are moral reasons for doing that, of course. And if moral arguments are not sufficient, then systems thinking provides the practical reasons to back up the moral ones. The real system is interconnected. No part of the human race is separate either from other human beings or from the global ecosystem. It will not be possible in this integrated world for your heart to succeed if your lungs fail, or for your company to succeed if your workers fail, or for the rich in Los Angeles to succeed if the poor in Los Angeles fail, or for Europe to succeed if Africa fails, or for the global economy to succeed if the global environment fails.
"As with everything else about systems, most people already know about the interconnections that make moral and practical rules turn out to be the same rules. They just have to bring themselves to believe that which they know."
Fortunately, I also see growing evidence that more and more actual, real people, outside organizations, institutions and governments, are expanding their personal boundaries of caring. We need to figure out how to get more of those people into official positions of leadership before we've created damage to our life support systems from which we won't have the time and resources to recover. We need to take to heart and soul the concept that we need the earth much, much more than the earth needs us. Our current rates and types of resource consumption, together with our constrained caring boundaries, have us enjoying a worldwide false Spring, as if it were natural and normal and will extend uninterrupted into Summer. It's not and it won't. We do know that, now we have to act as though we believe it.

The Big Bad

By David Orr

At last we decoded the terminal message,
Only to find the pattern we had expected
Was false — a false trail of false bread crumbs
Designed to leave pitfalls undetected.

We found a new pattern. We found a hand
Moving pieces we had thought were only
Part of  the board, and shifting them to vantage points
We had ignored. We rewrote the battle plan

And reconfigured the satellite array
To show our progress from the very beginning.
The fault should be traceable — and hence correctable — 
And once we found it, we’d be winning.

We found a new pattern. We followed its track
To a forest beside an abandoned tunnel
Diving wide as a boxcar into the rock.
A stale breeze blew over rusting shovels

And all of our instruments confirmed a hit.
We set a perimeter. We sent in a scout.
From the interior, nothing looked back at us.
No tracks indicated a force had come out.

But we had a pattern. At dawn, we dispatched
A team of our best, our trackers and stone killers,
To see if  the signals were finally a match
And if so, to counterattack. And now we wait.

And now we wait. The tunnel gives nothing back.
The trees are revealing the first signs of gold
But the air is unmoving. The air is still.
It is quiet here, and getting cold.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.