The Sixth Extinction

This article, The Sixth Extinction was written just over ten years ago and has since been expanded to a book, which is on my to-read list. In it, Elizabeth Kolbert uses the die-off of amphibians to illustrate how we’re causing a mass extinction by various means, from transporting animals/plants/insects and their associated viruses/bacteria to places not adapted to them, to reshaping the environment for our accommodation or food, to pollution and climate change.

Amphibians are among the planet’s great survivors. The ancestors of today’s frogs and toads crawled out of the water some four hundred million years ago, and by two hundred and fifty million years ago the earliest representatives of what became the modern amphibian clades—one includes frogs and toads, a second newts and salamanders—had evolved. This means that amphibians have been around not just longer than mammals, say, or birds; they have been around since before there were dinosaurs.

and…

Griffith said that he expected between a third and a half of all Panama’s amphibians to be gone within the next five years. Some species, he said, will probably vanish without anyone’s realizing it: “Unfortunately, we are losing all these amphibians before we even know that they exist.”

Which brings to mind Niemöller’s quote:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I wonder how far things will have to go before we as a species decide to seriously address the issue?

Black Americans and Democracy

Long article, but worth a read - America Wasn’t a Democracy, Until Black Americans Made It One

From 1619, when the first African slaves were sold to American settlers, to the present day, the article looks not only at the injustices done to black Americans, but also their contribution to the democratic ideals that America was founded on, even if the founders really only meant white people.

No one cherishes freedom more than those who have not had it. And to this day, black Americans, more than any other group, embrace the democratic ideals of a common good. We are the most likely to support programs like universal health care and a higher minimum wage, and to oppose programs that harm the most vulnerable. For instance, black Americans suffer the most from violent crime, yet we are the most opposed to capital punishment. Our unemployment rate is nearly twice that of white Americans, yet we are still the most likely of all groups to say this nation should take in refugees.

The truth is that as much democracy as this nation has today, it has been borne on the backs of black resistance. Our founding fathers may not have actually believed in the ideals they espoused, but black people did. As one scholar, Joe R. Feagin, put it, “Enslaved African-Americans have been among the foremost freedom-fighters this country has produced.” For generations, we have believed in this country with a faith it did not deserve. Black people have seen the worst of America, yet, somehow, we still believe in its best.

Adapting to Climate Change

A good article from a few years back, looking at how some US farmers are adapting to climate change while still being deniers that it’s happening in the first place.

It’s an interesting read, but this passage towards the end stands out…

For the next two hours or so, Ethan and I talked. It wasn’t an interview anymore. It was a conversation between two old men who, while we may come from different ideological camps, have each managed in our lives to cheat catastrophe long enough to learn to listen to each other.

And at the end of the conversation, I rolled a final cigarette, and Ethan took a deep breath when I lit it. “You know what, Ethan?” I said. “We’ve just sat here for the better part of four and half hours, a good old-fashioned rock-ribbed conservative like you and a good old-fashioned dyed-in-the-wool liberal like me, and we’ve touched on most of the major hot-button issues in the culture wars — abortion, same-sex marriage, guns, even climate. On about 85 percent of those issues, you and I could find enough common ground to find a shared purpose. On another 10 percent or so, we could at least reach an understanding. There was maybe about 5 percent where the differences were just too great. But we could set those aside, at least for now.”

He agreed.

“So why is it,” I asked, “that when I hear people talking about you, and you hear people talking about me, the only thing they ever talk about is that 5 percent?”

Unfortunately we’re still only talking about the 5 percent.

Malaysia

After Singapore we continued on to Malaysia, with the rest of the family meeting us in Batu Ferringhi for our usual visit to the Golden Sands. Anna & Michael were on the way back from Italy, Mark, Jess and Emily were on the way back from a visit to Jess’s folks in London, Nikki flew in from Sydney and Richard & Esther came down from Kanga.

I’ve been here a few times now and it’s always nice to kick back and relax with the family for a few days. Days are bookended by the breakfast buffet at the hotel and evening meal at the local hawker centre, with lounging by the pool taking up a fair proportion of the rest of the day. What’s not to like?

A trip into Penang is always worthwhile too, especially since the old streets obtained World Heritage listing in 2008, coincidentally also the year of my first visit. It’s quite interesting to see how the city is changing, developing a bit of a hipster culture in places while keeping the hawker aspects alive and well. The amount of street graffiti continues to grow too.

Singapore

We flew to Singapore a few weeks ago, for a few days before continuing on to Malaysia to visit Jacqui’s Dad. It was my first time visiting Singapore, only having stopped at Changi on the way to Europe previously, so it was nice to wander around and get a feel for the city state.

On the surface it’s a little antiseptic, everything spotless in the touristy section, not much traffic on the roads, same shops etc. as everywhere else in the world, epitomised by the Marina Bay Sands’ “The Shoppes” - complete with fake Olde Worlde name - where you won’t find a store that isn’t a designer brand. Yet you often round a corner to where the real people live and work and it’s busy, vibrant and full of hawker stalls selling cheap, tasty food. I’m not sure if it was Anthony Bourdain who said that all good food comes from street food, or maybe it’s a truism amongst chefs, but it’s certainly true in Asia and particularly in Singapore as it has always been such a melting pot of cultures.

It’s also a surveillance state - I’ve never seen so many CCTV cameras keeping an eye on everyone - and I wonder how much is being done with the footage. Is it merely temporarily recorded in case of crime, or are they heading the way of the Chinese and applying facial recognition on a large scale? Cars are also stupidly expensive (circa $95k for a Hyundai i30 which costs about $22k in Aus), which explains the lack of traffic, though the public transport system is excellent, so that’s an overall win in my book.

Single-party Government is always a bit suspect, though the country scores highly on lack of corruption etc. and elections are technically free, though there’s no effective opposition. The ‘benevolent dictator’ model seems to have helped them transition very effectively from Colonial rule, certainly much better than Malaysia has, though the large income from trade coupled with only a small land mass to manage has undoubtedly made things easier.

Anyway, some superficial thoughts from a superficial visit. We had a great time exploring by foot over a couple of days. Highlights were the various hawker stalls, Tiong Bahru, walking through Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Gardens by the Bay and seeing the Supertrees light show.

Here’s a few snaps.