Book Club: Braiding Sweetgrass

I could hand you a braid of sweetgrass as thick and shining as the plait that hung down my grandmother’s back.  But it is not mine to give, nor is it yours to take.  Wiingaashk belongs to herself.  So I offer, in its place, a braid of stories meant to heal our relationship with the world.

Robin Wall Kimmerer

One of the first things a child learns when learning to speak the English language is that men are he, women are she, and everything else is it.  Passing for now over the complex and debated issues of gender identity, the English language excludes and depersonalizes the entirety of life on Earth that is not of the Homo sapiens species.

There is little difficult in extrapolating this seemingly small quirk of language to the prevailing worldview which places humans on a pedestal above all other living beings.  Perhaps this worldview can rationalize the dishonourable way we have treated our mother and home planet.  

I am by no means claiming that this is the only explanation for our current state of affairs.  Certainly we cannot ignore the machinations of capitalism, WWII, and the agricultural revolution.  However, in the backdrop of these larger and more concrete criminals, there is a quiet evil.  The prevailing culture has so far removed us from nature and our place in it that our ancestors would not recognize us.  We see ourselves as apart from the natural order of the Earth, so much so that there are many who can easily consider fleeing our mother planet and all her non-human inhabitants for Mars, leaving our own fermenting destruction.

Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, aims to change this failing of the English language.  In a quiet, sweeping treatise which reads like a love letter, she examines her own relationships to the plants, animals, and natural world around her, as well as her worldview’s basis in her own Potawatomi heritage.

It is never easy to discuss atrocities and I sincerely hope it never will be.  I am not the first and not the most eloquent to condemn and weep for the systematic erasure, oppression, and degradation of the Indigenous cultures of Turtle Island.  In the more than five hundred years of colonization much has been destroyed of Indigenous cultures and even more has been ignored.  

Kimmerer’s book demonstrates a Potawatomi way of relating to the natural world that our colonial society would do well to emulate.  To her, all plants and animals are not it, but ki — kin.  We are as equal a member of the world as the maple or the bee, not rulers but friends.  

Going forward, we as a species must walk more carefully upon the Earth.  We have made mistakes and while it is too late to fix some of them, it is not too late for everything.  We must be stewards of the Earth and care for all of our kin, not just the ones who walk on two legs.

Love, Valentine

In-Depth: Peak Oil

It is no secret that our world is built on the shoulders of oil.  However, like Atlas, those shoulders have grown tired of their burden.  The supply of oil and its fossil fuel friends has a history of volatility, however in the near future that volatility may shift to a steep and permanent decline.  This decline has been prophesied for decades and is better known by the dramatic title of Peak Oil Theory.

Peak oil theory was first introduced in the 1950s, when industry was really picking up after the destruction of World War II.  Needless to say, a theory about the eventual collapse of the oil supply was not popular in the post-war boom.  However, since the oil crises of the 1970s, the theory has gained more and more traction.

Peak oil theory predicts that oil production will soon start a terminal decline.  Most authors imply, further, that no adequate alternative resource and technology will be able to replace oil as the backbone resource of industrial society.

Jörg Friedrichs, University of Oxford

Peak oil refers to the point where production and consumption of oil reaches its maximum.  After that, production, and therefore consumption, will decline.  It makes a lot of sense when you remember that oil — and all other fossil fuels — are a finite resource.  They are a large finite resource, as evidenced by the two trillion barrels of oil that are estimated to have existed in Earth’s history, but still definitively finite.  At some point, we will run out of oil either because we can’t access what is left or because there is simply none to be accessed.

Peak oil: “near-term peak and subsequent terminal decline in the global production of conventional oil”

Richard G. Miller & Steven R. Sorrell, University of Sussex

Much of the remaining oil is currently inaccessible.  For example, our current oil wells can only retrieve around 35% of the total oil in the well before the pressure falls too much and the well is contaminated with water.  Other oil is inaccessible due to it being under very deep water or ice.  While the ice may no longer be an issue after a few decades of warming, the water is only going to get deeper.  Offshore drilling is incredibly expensive and often a guaranteed money loss, setting aside the issues of how dangerous it is for the workers and surrounding wildlife.

If all this weren’t enough, oil is also in trouble financially.  It is a seldom discussed fact that fracking and tar sands are only profitable at oil prices of over $100/barrel, something we haven’t seen in several years.  New projects have been losing money since their inception and do not have the money to pay off the twenty or thirty year loans form their investors.  In part because of the huge upfront costs for building these projects but mostly because of the impotent returns, investors are loathe to finance new drilling.  Therefore, there is significantly less money to subsidize new projects and fewer being built.

Despite oil’s fraught and tenuous future, we are still very much dependent on its power.  In 2016, oil and other fossil fuels accounted for 80% of our primary energy usage.  The average American uses 25 barrels a year and the average person in the rest of the Global North uses 14 barrels a year.  Oil supports 95% of our transport needs.  While there has been a lot of talk about electric cars, electric trucks, and magnet trains there are still ships and airplanes.  These are less easily moved over to renewable energy, especially if we want to retain the fast, global market to which we have been accustomed.

In conclusion, the current oil dependence is economically, ethically, and practically unsustainable.  Questions, therefore, about the validity of its demise are both ill-timed and unimportant.  The important questions are when it will come and what we will do next.

Peak oil has been expected many times since the theory was introduced in the fifties.  Recently, however, evidence has been growing that the time is close at hand.  The International Energy Agency predicts that oil demand will reach its maximum in the 2040s.  That may seem futuristic, but it’s only 21 years away.  Someone born in 2000 would only be 40 years old.  Dutch Shell and many other analysts suspect that oil is more likely to peak within the next decade.  As yet, it is difficult to say how steep the decline in oil production will be.  If there is a gradual decline, it is more likely that renewable resources and technologies will step into the gap left by fossil fuels.  However, if there is a steep decline we could be left with no alternatives and the transition period necessary could lead to chaos.

There is precedent for situations where oil and fossil fuels are scare.  Jörg Friedrich, a researcher at the University of Oxford, has analyzed the responses in three historical countries which faced a shortage of oil.  In the 1930s, Japan resented having to import its oil from the United States (not helped by the atmosphere of war).  Their solution was to go to conquer oil producing regions in the Pacific.  In the 1990s, both North Korea and Cuba were left without oil after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The two countries pursued very different options.  The North Korean government chose to preserve the comfort and status of their elite by denying resources to the general population.  This led to mass starvation and the death of between 240,000 to 3.5 million people.  Cuba, on the other hand, leaned into the social networks present in the country and promoted organic, urban agriculture without the use of fossil fuels for tractors and tools.  The economy also was transitioned away from fossil fuels to more pre-industrial methods.

Countries prone to military solutions may follow a Japanese-style strategy of predatory militarism. Countries with a strong authoritarian tradition may follow a North Korean path of totalitarian retrenchment. Countries with a strong community ethos may embark on Cuban-style socioeconomic adaptation, relying on their people to mitigate the effects of peak oil.

Jörg Friedrichs, University of Oxford

It is also possible that governments will turn to other fossil fuels as a substitute for oil.  Environmentally, this would be a disaster.  Coal and other fossil fuels are more polluting that oil (which, as you may recall, is already very polluting) and would exacerbate the planet’s warming.  In time, these resources would also dwindle.  We would be left with a resource shortage with no other fossil fuels on which to fall back.  Resource shortages are the perfect breeding ground for war, extreme inequality, exploitation, and starvation.  Throughout history, oil has been a vector of suffering and it seems that it might not be done its dirty work.

There is, however, a vision of hope.  In Cuba, fuel shortages led to an outbreak of organic and non-industrial agriculture on abandoned, urban plots.  If we begin now, we can wean ourselves off of fossil fuels and onto renewable sources of energy before disaster strikes.  As any doctor will tell you, prevention is easier and better than curing the disease.  We have a choice between a green, healthy, and safe future or one that is dark, dangerous, and uncomfortably hot.  If we care about ourselves and our children, it’s not actually a choice.  The only thing left is to act.

What can you do?

  • Use less fossil fuels!  Drive less if you can & conserve electricity.
  • Support local agriculture!
  • Look into the energy available in your area.  Where does it come from? Speak to your government representatives about making renewable energy a priority.

Sources:

  1. Friedrichs, J. (2010) “Global energy crunch: How different parts of the world would react to a peak oil scenario”. Energy Policy, 38, 4562-4569.
  2. Miller, R.G. & Sorrell, S.R. (2014) “The future of oil supply”. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 372, 1-27.
  3. Pargman et al. (2017) “What if there had only been half the oil? Rewriting history to envision the consequences of peak oil”. Energy Research & Social Science, 31, 170-178.
  4. “With oil peak now in view, question is the steepness of the descent” (2017). The Electricity Journal, 30, 65-68.
  5. Keiser, M. (2019, July 13) “And Forgive Them Their Debts”. Keiser Report, RT, KR1409.

News!

Hi friends! Instead of a Book Club this week you are getting some exciting news!

I’ve released my first knitting pattern!

The Boudicca Scarf

Need to be at work at 5 but defend the Celts at 7? Look no further for the perfect accessory. The Boudicca Scarf is a meditative symphony of cables representing the long line of strong women stretching back to time immemorial. When you wear this scarf, you will feel like a warrior queen — even more so knowing that 50% of the proceeds from the sale of this pattern will be donated to the Global Fund for Women!

Celebrate the strength, beauty, and resilience of women with the Boudicca scarf!

I’m also super excited about this because this is the first pattern I’ve ever written and (hopefully) the first of many!

Love, Valentine

WIP: Sew Circle

Today’s WIP is all about sewing. You may have thought I was a one-trick pony in the crafting world, but think again! I’ve been sewing off and on since before I can remember, mostly because I am very picky about my clothes and hate spending money. Anyone who has ever shopped with me knows that I spend half the time in the store saying, “I could make that …”

This summer has been a golden era of sewing for me, so I thought I’d give you a tour of what I’ve accomplished!

The Blue Dress

This first dress was inspired by some light cotton gauze on sale at my local fabric store. After that, it was inspired by wanting something long that could be either formal or informal. I actually wore it to my brother’s graduation in June, but unfortunately I have no photographic proof!!

The Copenhagen Dress

The green dress I had actually made last year, but I hated how the bodice turned out so I ripped it up and redid it. Originally, it was more boxy with longer sleeves, but I like the more tailored, buttoned look a lot more. This is another cotton fabric and it has a very cute mini-herringbone pattern. Someone told me it was very Danish, so of course I needed to name it the Copenhagen Dress.

The Copycat Skirt

This skirt was the purest example of me seeing something in a store and not actually wanting to buy it. My version has huge pockets and some wooden buttons I bought at a craft fair.

The Poppy Dress

Lastly, I made the Poppy Dress. Yet again, this was inspired by fabric on sale and it was super quick to sew — only about three days! I love the vibrant red and the wrap front. I feel a little bit like a movie star on vacation, which is all I really ever want to feel like. Plus, with cotton gauze, this dress is perfect for when it’s approximately the surface of the sun outside.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour through my sewing adventures. Stay tuned for some more winter-oriented sewing projects and other crafty goodies!

Love, Valentine

Book Club: Gardening for Wildlife

Now that it’s summer, I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about gardening and admiring other people’s gardens. I’m a self-confessed plant lady with at least ten houseplants, so I always have plants on the mind!

One thing that’s been getting increased attention in the past couple of years is gardening with conservation in mind. The majority of us live in built environments where nature and wildlife may seem far away. However, plants and animals are still there! Even with just an apartment balcony, there are still birds who visit and plants down below.

Gardening for Wildlife by Adrian Thomas

Adrian Thomas’s book, Gardening for Wildlife, outlines exactly how any type of gardener can plant and plan with the natural world in mind. While the book is written for a UK audience, the tips are still applicable for the rest of the world. In this book, he provides information on how to build homes for butterflies, bats, insects, birds, and mammals while keeping the garden space usable for human purposes. There is no need to sacrifice comfort in the garden in order to have a wildlife garden.

As the human population expands and grows outward, there is less and less untouched space for the plants and animals that preceded us. In the absence of these spaces, we should take care to create spaces where we and the wildlife can live together. There may not be much an individual can do, but they can change their garden and that small action can initiate change.

Love, Valentine

WIP: Shifty IV & New Beginnings …

Hi friends! It has been a cruel, cruel summer here in Southern Ontario. While it’s nowhere near as hot as other places (including where I used to live in Pennsylvania) it’s still disgustingly hot. Therefore, please excuse any lack of enthusiasm on my part. Even thinking about sweaters is almost too much for me!

The biggest news for this WIP is that I finished my Shifty! I’m beyond thrilled with how it turned out and can’t wait to layer it with other pieces in the fall and winter. You can check out the full project details here: https://www.ravelry.com/projects/valentineknitter/shifty.

A proud mama and her sweater.

I’ve also started a new sweater perfect for summer. You remember that yarn I bought? Well, I’ve decided to make a lacy cardigan for layering in the summer. I’m not following a pattern, instead I’m just having fun with the yarn and seeing what happens. It’s knitting up really quickly (thanks to size eight needles) and I can’t wait to wear it! No name yet — any suggestions?

Close-up of the pattern on my new project

Stay tuned for what I craft next!

Love, Valentine

Book Club: Make Do & Mend

Hi friends! Sorry I’ve been AWOL, I’ve been ill and everything is just sliding behind schedule. Therefore, my apologies if the next few posts are oddly spaced!

I’ve been sewing since before I can remember. This is not to say that anything I sewed was any good, far from it. Most of what I made was god awful. But I was keen and when you’re learning a new skill that’s really all that matters.

Me, age thirteen, with the very first ‘real’ dress I made.

At first, the main reason I sewed was because I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted in stores. Then I started sewing because I was stubborn and thought to myself, “Why would I buy that when I could make it myself?”. The fact that I could not, in fact, make it myself did not deter me. More recently, my sewing has shifted to more ecological and ethical motives. While I have limited control over the fabric, when I sew the clothes myself, I can make sure that at least the production process is ethical and ecological.

Make Do and Mend, released by the UK’s Board of Trade in 1943.

This week’s book came to me in an unexpected way. My family and I were in Belgium, and my brother (the history buff he is) wanted, needed, to see the where the Battle of the Bulge took place. So we went. The museum there is incredible, focusing on the lives and experiences of the villagers and soldiers on both sides. I may have cried. I highly recommend it if you find yourself in the area. And as museums are wont to do, there was also a gift shop. The gift shop had the usual stuff, but it also had a selection of WWII domestic memorabilia (for lack of a better phrase). And in this selection I found this little pamphlet.

While it is only 31 pages long, this book is a wealth of information. You can learn to darn anything you ever (or never) would have thought to darn and can become acquainted with the processes for refitting men’s shirts into children’s clothes.

While some of the information is obviously of the past — not many of us routinely send out our clothes to be laundered and take care to remove the buttons beforehand — most of it is remarkably current. Clothes still wear out and there is still great wisdom in the act of mending.

Since the 1960s and the advent of the disposable culture, the western world has been adverse to the idea of mending. When our shirts get holes, we buy new ones. Sewing and mending is a hobby, not a necessity. The opposite was true in the 1940s. There was a world war being waged. Supply chains were cut off and vast amounts of resources were being shovelled towards the warfront. Civilians had to go without many comforts we take for granted today and basic food and cloth staples were rationed.

What emerged from this shortage was a society that knew how to make a thing stretch. In this book, we see examples of how clothes can be recycled again and again for new uses and new wearers. A man’s shirt becomes a women’s blouse, then a child’s dress, next cleaning rags, and finally stuffing for a toy. Holes are lovingly mended and pants are reinforced to stop any holes in the first place.

While this book of tips and tricks was written for a war that ended more than seventy years ago, it has found new relevance in the modern era. We are living in a world that is resource strapped. There are seven billion people on the planet and more arriving every day. Food, water, shelter, and space are becoming more and more valuable. While clothes may seem small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, they are still a small step in the right direction. We are entering a war and we are all on the homefront: making little and large sacrifices so that all seven billion (and counting) of us can live a better life.

Love, Valentine