Archives for the month of: July, 2021

Damn climate urgency, it is vacation time, and after year-long lockdowns, vaccinated EU citizens are crossing borders again, plane, trains, and automobiles.

The Green Deal is here and EU countries will have to get serious to meet the goals set forth for cutting emissions, and come up with sustainable solutions.

Just one simple question: How are they actually going to measure who emits what where and when? Taking your car, tent, and family from Germany into Italy, will that count as German emission or Italian emission, is it the car or the atmosphere, the producer, the consumer? Mmmm. It turns out it is not so easy to measure and a lot of ‘creative accounting’ will be part of the process I guess.

Another wrench in the process is that natural emission is not a constant. All in all there currently is no reliable accurate way to measure total global emissions or how much carbon dioxide is coming from individual nations.

Burning coal, oil and gas is CO2 coming from plants long dead, and that is a little different than CO2 emitted by biological processes of today. The difference is the radioactive isotope Carbon-14. I am quite familiar with it, as it is widely used in archaeology to date organic materials, a method developed in the late 1940”s by Willard Libby. The idea behind it is that radiocarbon is constantly created in the Earth’s atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen. The resulting 14C combines with atmospheric oxygen to from radioactive carbon dioxide, which gets taken up by plants via photosynthesis and then eaten by animals. When the plant or animal dies it stops exchanging carbon with its environment and then the amount of 14C begins to decrease. The half-life (half of a given sample is decayed) is about 5730 years. (other elements have different half-life rates of radioactive isotopes). 

Fossil fuels are OLD. They contain no radioactive carbon. As a result, beginning int the late 19th century, there was a noticeable drop in the proportion of 14C as the carbon dioxide generated  from burning fossil fuels began to accumulate in the atmosphere. Experiments are now underway to measure the amount of carbon dioxide in parcels of air that came from fossil fuel or from current biological processes. We have a long way to go, archaeology of air has become somewhat of an obsession. 

We taught we had tamed this planet. This planet is old, but still in its prime, maybe half-life.

I’m in awe of the beauty of this planet, and confident that when we leave this world we will morph into something else incredible. In the meantime, I keep the sensory channels open.


Wind and water morphing rock, a slow process, glacial scale, not something we can wait for in our life time. Sand, long time in the making, nonetheless seems to be abundant. It comes in many forms and colors, depending on the local rock source, but all share a common ingredient, silicon dioxide. It is a non-renewable resource on human time-scale, like other resources we are rapidly consuming. Sand that is used for satisfying our construction hunger, however, is running low. Unlike other scarce resources, sand mining is not well regulated and the total amount we currently extract from riverbeds and coastlines can only be approximated by the amount of concrete used in building activity. A simple rule, of course, would be that sand extraction should not exceed the rate of resupply from upstream, but current use is far beyond that, impacting river flows and ecosystems wherever sand is mined. 

The speed of our current lifestyles feels more like panic than a well thought out strategy or ‘roadmap for the future’. Slow, apparently is not the way to go, even though slow movements, such as slow food are still on the menu. The just presented EU Green Deal policy is focused on reduction of CO2 emissions, economic growth and innovation, all at the same time. Reduction of (over) consumption is nowhere mentioned. The spiral sand trap however is real. Sand is not only used for building construction, but also for reinforcing our coastlines, a challenge that will only get more urgent with depleted coastlines and rising sea levels.

Everything changes, motion is a given, but we can modify the rate and direction.

The way of the rock, contemplating sand. Fluvial and aeolian force, fundamental stuff. The planet keeps spinning,

taking time.

It is 1774, and no this is not about Boston, but about Franeker. On May 8, a special configuration of the planets could be observedI in early morning sky in Friesland. Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter were closely lined up, and Eelco Alta, a local pastor predicted that the mutual forces of these planets would throw our home planet out of orbit and would then be burned up by the sun. It caused fear and unrest among the population. It also spurred Eise Eisinga, a wool comber in his daily profession, to start building a planetarium in his living room in Franeker in order to ease the panic. it took him seven years and is the oldest working planetarium in the world. Earth remained in its orbit.

Anxiety about our fate is also a current phenomena, but apparently not unprecedented. That is, anxiety is not new, but the cause of our current anxiety however is unique. Rapid changes is our atmosphere, water and other resources are such that in the foreseeable future, they may no longer support life as we know it. While the previous millennium has been affected by a fair share of regional climatic swings – the Little Ice Age for instance was a period of regional cooling and caused crop failure and famine in different parts of the world, just not all at the same time – our current predicament is a global phenomena.

Over the past 150 years, leading up to the new, current millennium we have burned through the Earth’s energy sources at unprecedented rates as if there is no tomorrow. In the name of sustainability, we use more technological capacity to tap into other sources, that supposedly burn ‘cleaner,’ in order to maintain our achieved standards of living.  Our soils, our oceans, nothing is not a potential ecosystem service, a term that is defined as that “Ecosystems provide services to humankind. Those may involve the provision of a product (e.g. drinking water), a regulatory authority (e.g, pollination of crops), a cultural service (e.g, providing opportunities for recreation), or a service that supports the services mentioned earlier (e.g the cycle of nutrients in an ecosystem).” It is strange way of thinking, as “this world was made for you and me.” * Sounds pretty arrogant. Even if considered from a capitalist system way of thinking, when a service is provided you should receive something of equal value in return. We failed to do just that.

Unlike the previous millennium, our current climatic challenges are caused largely by our own behavior. The good news is, if we are the cause, we can also provide the solution, that is, if we are willing to change our behavior. Western science has given us incredible insights, but by virtue of being embedded within a capitalist system, it has also guided our paths toward (over) exploitation of resources, of people. Other knowledge systems, non-western science, ancient wisdom has long been neglected, eradicated even, Maya astronomy, to name just one.

What if, I always wonder, these knowledge traditions would not have been so violently disrupted, destroyed by Colonial powers…

Unlike Eise Eisinga, who could built a planetarium to show that the alignment of the planets would not cause our planet to be burned up, we have little in the way of scientific evidence to ease our current concerns and fears. We need to change our values, attitudes and behavior. That is not easy but you can start by reading:


The potato plants are blooming, but a lot of fertilizing action is going on, dunging the fields, a penetrating smell. When I have my bathroom window open, even my towel smells like, well… shit.  Last Saturday I made a relaxing tour through the countryside, near the Wadden, the delta lands of moist and clay. Cycling on the small farm roads, along fields and ditches, I am happy to see that wild flowers are allowed to grow, lining the road. Up close, the smell suddenly turns sweet, the aromatic molecules are spread through our atmosphere by gentle breeze and fierce winds, subtly contributing to livable air. Removing flowering “weeds” from our surrounding was and is a big mistake. These molecules may turn out to be more important than we think in our survival as a species (Roman Kaiser, Scent of Vanishing Flora).

My goal that Saturday morning is to see some of the flax fields. Flax grows extremely well in the Netherlands, thanks to its wet soils. Unfortunately, due to the rise of synthetic and cotton fabrics, linnen, made of flax, has lost its importance in daily lives and economy. But the need for sustainable practices has spurred on some people to start growing flax again. The Flaxroute in my neighborhood is one such initiative. The fields are small, but a beautiful sight of little blue flowers dancing in the wind awaits me. The individual flowers only open for a day, the total blooming period is a couple of weeks.

A local basket maker explains the old process for me. When the flax fully bloomed it will be cut and the top flower heads threshed to win the flaxseed. The fibers are encased in the woody outer layer and to remove it, the shafts used to be submerged in the ditches to ‘rot away’. This was tricky as too short would not totally remove it, while too long would also rot the fibers. 

When grown in ideal geographical location (like northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands) the cultivation of flax produces no waste. It is a beautiful material, the remaining roots fertilize the soil.

The flowering potato plants have their own charm, but I hope that flax cultivation will expand, as a way toward more sustainable practices in this region. The blue wave is an incredible sight.