Ghost Dancing Toward the Edge

The local paper reports that the year has been dry. And 2020 was dry too: “….Maine’s driest year in almost two decades.” Of course we dirt farmers have been trying to deal with the drought for most of the summer season. The water in the irrigation pond is low. You have to decide which crops get the water and which will be stunted and barren. It’s very unpleasant.

In Europe rivers are running dry with too little water in them to float the barges so vital to commerce there. Reportedly it’s the worst drought in 500 years.

Of course all this is quite consistent with the predictions of climate scientists, largely ignored for decades now. Perhaps owing to what climatologist James Hansen has labeled “scientific reticence” however, the increasingly alarming cascade of events is showing up earlier than predicted. We apparently have less time than we thought.

Back in 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (historically one of the leaders in “scientific reticence”) announced that we had 12 years to prevent what some call “runaway climate.”

The BBC quoted Prince Charles saying, “ ….. the next 18 months will decide our ability to keep climate change to survivable levels and to restore nature to the equilibrium we need for our survival.”

Of course those 18 months came and went. Business-as-usual reigned. Planetary heating chugged on. A month ago UN chief Antonio Guterres warned, “Half of humanity is in the danger zone, from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction…. We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.”

Based on personal observation however, I’d have to say that what is in most peoples’ hands these days are distractive devices—— the better to keep up with the goings and comings of “celebutantes” or other ephemeral “influencers,” amped-up shouters, or well-tatted poseurs of the cretin kind. The UK Guardian reported on one of these July 21st: “ Kylie Jenner has faced a torrent of criticism for her decision to take her private jet on a flight that lasted just 17 minutes (and generated a ton of carbon). But the practice of taking brief journeys on luxury aircraft appears to be common among the rich and famous despite mounting concerns about climate change.”  Apparently, “…. the 24-year-old socialite and business woman, has faced opprobrium after she posted an Instagram picture of herself and her partner, rapper Travis Scott…. between two (obscenely large)($72m) private jets with the caption ‘you wanna take mine or yours?’ ” (Guardian) Uncharitable Tweeters labeled her a “full time climate criminal.”

But why not? No structural attempts are being made to slow global heating. Why should clueless Kylie have to don the designer hair skirt when it’s Burn Baby Burn society-wide?

As Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges recently observed, “Civilizations die in familiar patterns. They exhaust natural resources. They spawn parasitic elites who plunder and loot … institutions and systems…. They engage in self-defeating wars…..Artistic expression and intellectual inquiry are replaced by a new dark age, the triumph of tawdry spectacle and the celebration of crowd-pleasing imbecility.”

That’s pretty descriptive to anyone who’s been paying attention. And, as societies fail in predictable ways Hedges observes, “ The more insurmountable the crisis becomes, the more we, like our prehistoric ancestors  will retreat into self-defeating responses, violence, magical thinking and denial.”

Hedges cites the history of 19th century Native Americans as it became clear that their societies were doomed. “Crisis cults spread rapidly….. as the buffalo herds and the remaining tribes faced extermination.” So called ‘Ghost Dances’ summoning dead ancestors proliferated in the hope that “the railroads, the murderous cavalry units, the timber merchants, the mine speculators, the hated tribal agencies, the barbed wire , the machine guns, even the white man himself——would disappear. Our psychological hard-wiring is no different.”

Against this back-drop, a piece on the Guardian (8/18/22) headlined the question: “Are indoor vertical farms (sic) really ‘future -proofing agriculture’?” Given the immense energy consumption of these grow operations—— spoiler-alert—— it looks like the answer is no. But doubtless as a way of pretending to do something about the destruction of arable farmland and farmers while demonstrating the usual quest for a technological fix for a political problem — and our usual aversion to “dirt,” it’s a natural.

Nate Storey, “chief science officer” at one of these syntho-shops proclaims that in a climate changed world, “…we’re future-proofing agriculture for our species.”

That’s the magical thinking/ self-serving puffery  of a modern ghost dancing/snake-oil salesman. In fact, the piece quotes Tamar Haspel calling out these capital-intensive vertical farming (sic) factories as producing “lettuce for rich people.” Staple grains can’t/won’t be grown this way. Ever.

Thus do we dither and dance our way toward the Anthropocene’s fiery finale.

Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: