I have just gotten around to reading Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, which is probably part of any self-respecting “doomer”‘s library, along with other books I’ve found worthwhile, such as Reinventing Collapse by Dmitry Orlov or the seminal classic The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter. Except, I’m not a doomer (and I hate that term anyway). I’m just someone interested in thinking about our times in different ways.
There doesn’t seem to be any cause for feelings of doom when you read the paper today and see that CNY’ers (the real CNY’ers) are genuinely green in their outlook and behavior. The sample for this survey is small and perhaps too much is being made of it, but it’s heartening to see CNYers understanding that “greenwashing” (cloaking corporate interests in green costume) can be a big problem too. This question makes me take the survey a little more seriously. But mainly what I see in this survey is that the less affluent a place is, the more serious-minded they may be about changing the way they live and giving back to the earth. Perhaps this is similar to the way poorer people tend to be the most generous in giving to charity.
Then again, we’re still not thinking entirely clearly. There are some “No to Wastebed 13” signs on my street now. This is because some of my former neighbors now live in Golden Meadows, the subdivision that was built near the old wastebed where Honeywell and the state propose to store Onondaga Lake sediments. I’m still trying to find out why I knew about Wastebed 13 before homeowners there apparently did. I’m not exactly an environmental activist, and I knew. I read the paper, and was following along with the lake cleanup mainly because of my concern/interest in the Onondaga LRA. I feel badly for the Golden Meadows homeowners, particularly my former neighbors, and wonder how the Onondaga Nation’s recent vision statement for Onondaga Lake speaks to them. (Are we speaking to one another?)
The anti-wastebed signs are bright yellow; you can’t miss them. Coming home from work, I noticed a little yellow flag fluttering in the grass in the yard next door to one of the signs. Someone had their lawn freshly pesticided for spring. Toxic waste is not okay for landfills and lakes, but still okay for lawns, I guess. That’s the right sort of poison for our homes and children! Until we get over this willful blindness, we’re going to keep running into dilemmas like Wastebed 13.
But back to the dirt. I thought I would be more interested by The World Without Us for its description of how suburban homes and mighty cities decay, but I actually found myself fascinated by the chapter on dirt and what sticks around in it. The story of the long-term soil experiments at an English research farm reminded me a lot of agricultural writings by and about George Geddes and Fairmount in the 19th century. I was not so interested in this stuff when I was doing the start of my Fairmount research, but now as I’m trying to ease into learning gardening, I am. What’s in my dirt?
Aspiring gardeners in Fairmount don’t know how good they have it: the provenance of their dirt is surprisingly well documented, thanks to old George. While I’m fairly sure that the land my house sits on was either not actually Geddes family land, or was not actually farmed (too many large stones present – although it could have been grazing land for his sheep), I’m confident that it probably wasn’t greatly disturbed in the early years of the 20th century either. It probably wasn’t sprayed with fertilizer. The biggest mystery therefore is how the homebuilders messed with it in the mid-1950s. My mother believes, from her childhood memories, that the homebuilders did not truck in much new dirt. I can also quiz her what the original homeowners (my grandparents) put on it in the way of pesticides and lawn fertilizer back in the beginning.
It would be nice to get soil samples tested – not, as one usually might do, to determine the best spot for gardening, but to try and find a spot that might be the least transformed from the time before the house was built. This would be in the back yard, away from the road and the house. I also want to sample the soil in the front yard (which I expect will be more contaminated) and a sample from my sister’s house in the city. I have a feeling that doing the sort of testing I’m interested in would be very expensive, though, so I’ll have to find out if it’s really feasible to do.