The Nurturing Earth
A New Word, For A New Beginning
I knew that the organic ideal, that the “whole earth” movement had lost a meaning – and was facing a major challenge – in a larger, more important campaign for the truth when, in 2003, an American general speaking from the killing fields of Iraq expressed a need for a more “sustainable supply of troops, and weapons” to help contain the rapidly spreading violence that was beginning to consume that country.
The problem with a trendy term, or with any kind of key word that helps to define an important idea or movement for change in our society – is that once you start to bandy it about, you have no control over the way that it is then used and abused by those who do not understand the true place and purpose from which it came.
What is worse - once a term or phrase becomes recognisably popular, and therefore useful, to the spielers of spin who are trying to tease and twist the public perception of a candidate – is that you cannot limit the ways in which a word is deliberately misused, and then corrupted, to suit the purpose of the back room masters who are running our parties, and writing their policies.
Those who really care about this earth - and for the sort of food that we grow and feed to our children – lost ownership of the word “sustainable” long before a three star general called for a more regular supply of soldiers to feed a Middle Eastern intervention that – predictably – had been turned into a mince machine.
The wording of that stretched commander's political request was merely the confirmation of our latest loss, and of the need to see new words coined, to help turn back the tide of control from those whose first - and last - concern remains either the profit line, or the latest poll of marginal seats.
I have looked for other terms that would define – better – the ideas and principles that underlie the need to find a form of food growing that can outlast the end of a cheap, carbon based industrial food economy whose nutrient base and distribution network remain dangerously dependent on a coal and oil fed form of food and fertiliser production, as well as its transport.
When the price of oil hits two dollars a liter - which it will - as soon as Israel bombs the Iranian nuclear facilities, and the oil markets go into meltdown - or as soon as a disintegrating Syrian or Egyptian state spills its chaos across the fragile balance of the Middle East - the Tasmanian economy will start to implode.
This will happen because just about every tonne of food, machinery and fertiliser that is moved around this island is moved by road, and by road alone.
This all road dependent transport system has been created at he expense of a once extensive rail based freight network degraded by over fifty years of deplorably ignorant and unimaginative, all road driven, government transport policy.
If you do not grow your own food in the garden, or on on the farm, in Tasmania, then all that you eat is now brought to your plate by the roads that have been allowed to become the only meaningful lifelines of supply for this island.
Our island economy is facing a looming food crisis because a railway network that has been crippled and emasculated by a half century of short term costed, single market return based management of the infrastructure – an approach that has ignored a duty of care, implicit in all governance – remains abandoned by state based politicians who still overlook the need to maintain an alternative, effective, strategic rail network that can provide an emergency alternative to a road distribution crisis that anyone with any sense of vision for the future could have seen coming, from 1972 onwards.
When our oil and road based system of food production, supply and distribution is crippled, overnight, by a short term crises in the oil supply – or by a longer term, ongoing escalation of costs that will see whole classes of food staple made too expensive to buy, and therefore to grow and sell and shift to market – we will having nothing available,in this state, to replace or support it, not once the last viable rail connection to a functioning port in Hobart central has been severed.
If the run down of rail in Tasmania between 1955 and 1972 may have been understandable - given the prevailing road based monopoly of a transport policy fueled by a flirtation with cars, and by an ignorance of the dangers of an all road and oil based dependency - the oil shocks of the early seventies, eighties and nineties should have woken Tasmanian leaders to their dangerous over reliance on oil futures.
With our rail system strangled and truncated, and without a supporting network of canals connecting our towns and cities - as remains the case in many parts of Europe - made worse in the wake of the death of a coastal freight shipping network that once connected Tasmanian cities with important parts of the southern and northern agricultural hinterlands, cars and trucks are all we have. God help us, then, when the oil price spikes from $2 to $3 and then to $5 a liter, and God help those working families who are not growing their own food, for they will not be be able to afford to eat.
When that happens, we may well see food riots on this island, and with the present apathetic attitude of our politicians towards these issues, Tasmania's own tragedy, in a time of great challenge and upheaval, world wide, may well be that only after such a catastrophe might occur, here – in a place of rivers, rain and green fields - will our leaders find the vision and the guts required to redefine and rebuild our systems of public transport and food distribution.
These are all of the deeper factors, meanings and consequences which remain implicit in the full ambit of the word “sustainable” as it is applied to the idea of a food growing culture that can be truly sustained and supported through a twenty first century that cannot be based or built upon an oil or coal based carbon economy – not in the ways in which the past two centuries of an industrial, and a post industrial society, were shaped – not at a time when global warming and climate shift have brought us, already, a major escalation in numbers of climate refugees fleeing in the wake of famine and drought becoming endemic in lands that are losing their rains, their rivers, and the water that is the base of all forms of life, of growth, and of our food supply.
What I wanted was a term that could define an idea of food growing which could outlast and outreach the old economies and understandings that belong to an age of oil indulgence that is passing - already - as I write.
What I have sought is a term that will leave behind the baggage collected around the worn out words and terms that now mean so many different, lesser things to different people.
What I desired was a term that was based in my own belief in the fundamental role that women - as part of a larger reconnection of our communities - must play in the reshaping of a culture and society that has been brought towards a coming crisis by successive waves of aggressive, patriarchal, emasculating ideas of structure and governance which still eulogise and uphold an idea of adversarial conflict - of verbal and emotional combat – underlying the childish jibes and demeaning exchanges that are held between those who are supposed to be leading this nation and society.
The houses of parliament across the states and in this nations capital have become a laughing stock for the young, have become mocking places of deception, dishonest dealing, and duplicity to which all sides of the the political spectrum have become either inured, or too well versed, and dependent.
There are too many people in our parliament who stand for election and who remain in their seats because they enjoy, and excel, at a form of gladiatorial verbal contest which teaches our young to embarrass, humiliate and belittle those whose views do not match their own.
The tenor of the public debate of this nation has descended down from a very dubious historical place of pseudo battlefield theatrics into one which has now become a source of disgrace and dismay for all who witness the way in which our political leaders bully with banter as they trivialize and reduce the life deciding issues at stake with a form of bear baiting that can only teach our young how to muddy the waters as they mock.
We have no statesmanship, no leadership, and no inspiration for change, with very few worthy examples – in the chambers of power - of how one should carry oneself, with decency, and dignity, through life.
There are just the one or two brave and enduring spirits – the independent Federal member for Denison is one who comes to mind – who break the mould for the lowest common denominator – but they are the rare, shining exceptions to a tawdry rule of reduction.
What I wanted was a term which would overleap such a lack of leadership, which might outreach the corrupting manner in which our political leaders and commentators have usurped and perverted - or demeaned as they repeatedly trivialized though parroting, for their own ends - once worthy terms which inspired a generation who hoped that time would turn to an age of truth and ideals – to a more noble, and redemptive path, for human history.
What I wanted was a term that might leave behind all of the rancour, of the idea of combat and contest, of winners and losers in a society that presently reflects a battle for the market in an assumed self interest which underpins our whole language of commercial, political and individual jostling for advantage, for the survival of the egoistic principle – a lesser hope for human life that seems to have overrun those ideas of sharing and support which are so badly needed in these times.
I wanted a term that was true, and kind; and caring, and courteous.
I wanted a word that would convey all that is lovely in life, that is most beautiful and enduring, in women, and in those men who have kept the feminine side of their soul and spirit intact.
I wanted a term that was not too neat, nor trite – one whose sound might echo through the mind, and be remembered - but which would not be able to run off the tongue too quickly, and therefore, be able to be uttered too glibly - thus preventing it from becoming banal, and thus, from being of any use or interest to those who would seek to assimilate, and then emasculate, the deeper meanings that rest behind it.
I wanted a term that could not easily be captured or corrupted by those who seek to maintain positions of privilege, or power, or of a greed driven idea of the profit based motivation for life that seems to have become the only system of faith and belief for far too many people – those whose ideas and outlook remain bound and imprisoned by the fundamentally materialist culture of this country.
It may not be the best, nor ultimate term used to describe the basis of my thought and hope for the future of food and community in this society, but it will have to do for now.
“The Nurturing Earth” is the title of this short essay, and of the book that will flow from it, and the term that flows from that is “earthnurture”.
I give this term – this idea of earthnurture - away now, to all who would use it with love, and insight, with understanding, and tolerance; and with respect.
April 4 2012
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