Invisible Ink

Notes for a living planet

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Five fun ways to prepare for climate change

Sixth Great Extinction got ya down? Worried about the future of humans on our planet? You’re not alone, and even though heartbreaking climate news is everywhere these days, there is a silver lining to it all. A miniscule but shimmering sliver of silver. Wait for it … Knowing the bad news can help us prepare for what’s coming. I did say it was a sliver.

While there is no way of knowing the full scope of changes we’ll face, educated guesses include drought, flooding, food insecurity, severe weather, unpredictable seasons, and ecosystem collapse. Our best line of defense for a volatile future such as this is resilience, the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. Here are five (decidedly anti-prepper) ways to prep.

Cultivate Diversity

A purple carrot is not just interesting and beautiful. As John Navazio—breeder of the Dragon Carrot—knows, genetic diversity is the best bet for life to adapt and evolve through challenging times.

Strengthen Your Real-Life Community

The original social networks really acted as nets. Neighbors lent tools to one another, helped each other raise barns, and held one another in times of loss and grief. If your Dragon Carrots don’t grow, your neighbors might have some advice to share (and maybe even a few carrots). When you build your cob house, it’ll be a lot easier with extra hands. Sure, the times have changed, but real-life communities are as important as ever.

Learn a Skill to Trade or Share

Many of us work in professions with little value outside the mainstream economy. If we want to thrive outside of that economy, we’ll need a variety of skill sets between us. Luckily, a lot of these things are fun to learn and we’re naturally interested in them: basic first aid, beekeeping, brewing beer, composting-toilet installation, growing food, knitting, making herbal medicines, massage, midwifery …

Practice Sharing

Share your skill. Host a seed fair. Start a community orchard. Turns out sharing is a great way to strengthen your real-life community. How convenient.

Join the Resistance

There are so many cool ways to help slow the economic momentum that’s causing climate change, from’s international climate movement to local battles against fracking, mining, clear-cutting, and general destruction in the name of profit. As psychologist Mary Pipher knows, action is a healing tonic—for ourselves and the earth.

Photo by Kevin Dooley, altered from original under the Creative Commons license.


Earth Odyssey Crew
Creating zero-waste systems is more than a job.

A little inspiration from someone who decided she didn’t want to play the nine to five game and stuck with that decision.

We first encountered Shayna Gladstone through her essay, “From College to Reality: A Radical Transition,” in which she explains her reasons for deciding against the cubical life. Naysayers might’ve called her musings idealistic, but Gladstone has proven herself by helping to organize Project Nuevo Mundo. The online network connects people who want to build living, ecological design systems with organizations who want those systems installed. 

Now, Project Nuevo Mundo is deep into its Earth Odyssey, as seen in the video above, building homes with natural materials, turning human “waste” into fertilizer with composting toilets, and regenerating soil with mycelium (mushroom roots).

Also by Shayna Gladstone: “How to Get Ready for the Global Eco-Village Movement.”


Pages from Foraging & Feasting
The urge to forage continues to spread. Prepare yourself and protect your hipster friends with this field guide and wild food cookbook.

Perhaps you consider foraging a deplorable hipster pastime. Perhaps you thought—based on principle alone—that you would never read a book dedicated “In gratitude to the plants!” It matters little, since each day the truth becomes clearer: No one will escape the weed-eating frenzy that has gripped our nation.

“I will never give in to the plant scavengers,” you vow. Alas, it is inevitable. One day you will be invited to a friend’s house for dinner. You will accept the invitation wholeheartedly, envisioning his delectable bread pudding. But when you arrive he will tell you that he’s gone gluten free. Instead of bread pudding, he will present to you a hand-woven basket, which you’ll carry though town and trail, plucking various flowers, berries, and leaves.

When that day comes, you must be ready. Though your friend will assure you that he researched wild edibles on a suspicious device called the internet, it is possible that he could mistake poison hemlock for wild carrot, or pokeweed for elderberry. Or (worse?), he might be an overzealous harvester—a scourge on the very plants he professes to love.

Foraging & Feasting coverPrepare him—and save yourself from uncertain demise—with Foraging & Feasting, an illustrated guide to common wild edibles. Organized alphabetically by common name, the authors have also included Latin names for concrete identification and further research. Further, they clearly list such necessary facts as the best times to harvest, and whether there are poisonous look-alikes of which you should be wary. Beneath the drawings, culinary uses of the plant are listed, as well as information about preferred habitat, typical size, and methods of reproduction.

The second half of the book contains brief, useful descriptions of common weeds’ medicinal uses and recipes for that dinner your friend promised. No bread pudding, regrettably, but the herbal truffles and meadow custard should suffice. Stay away from this section yourself, lest you find yourself smitten, swept up in the fad you so despise. If you cannot resist in spite of your dismal knowledge of the kitchen arts, do your loved ones the favor of starting with the basic cookery section—it covers such fundamentals as simmering whole grains and concocting soup stock from scratch. After that, beware, you’ll be well on your way to becoming as lost as the rest of them.

We need the tonic of the wild. -Thoreau

adjective \ˈwī(-ə)ld\
living in nature without human control or care : not tame

Like the disappearing wilderness itself, we’ve managed to hollow out the meaning of wild, the word. I offer as evidence: Wild Cherry Pepsi.

As a kid I drank this fruit-flavored cola whenever it was on offer, as long as my mother wasn’t there to stop me. It was my top choice partly because it was strictly off-limits (caffeine, sugar), and partly because it was “wild.” I had a vague notion that the word signified some extreme essence within the can (caffeine, sugar). And while my mom was never around to see me drink it, she was right in guessing it would bring out an extreme essence within her child.

One thing’s for sure: I did not understand that it was the cherries that were supposed to be wild. Who did? Perhaps I had never heard of a wild cherry outside the flavor offerings of soda and cough drops. It hardly matters, since there was not a molecule of actual cherry in any of it, wild or otherwise. And that’s the point. We’ve emptied this word of meaning. We’ve domesticated it.

Still, wild is one of my favorite expressions—no longer because it denotes some forbidden fruit (well, maybe a little bit), but out of reverence for the untamed spirit I suspect is buried in all of us. Herbalists have long said that a wild plant makes more potent medicine than a domesticated one. The explanation for its powerful essence is that in the wild, where no human waters or weeds away competitors, plants need a stronger life force and will to survive.

“We need the tonic of the wild,” writes Thoreau. Tonics invigorate, they refresh and tone body and mind. Wilderness—where life force is strong, where not a day is taken for granted—is a tonic for the spirit as well. Now, as the human species sets out to pave, farm, and extract every last resource; as rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide rise; as the economy falters, the rich getting richer while the rest struggle to survive, I wonder: Do we even really know what living is? Now more than ever, we need to learn from that which can’t be tamed, the life force that refuses to give up.

Original photo by, altered under the Creative Commons license.


 Myranda Escamilla Collaged Skull Myranda Escamilla doesn't know exactly why she collages animal skulls, but her work dwells on life, death, and our culture’s disconnect from the wild. 

A little over a year ago, Myranda Escamilla walked into an antique shop in Port Isabel, Texas, a beach town near her home in Brownsville. Inside, she happened upon two deer skulls that have altered her work as an artist—and likely her life as well.

“My intrigue with skulls came from seeing my father collect them when I was a child,” she explained in an email. “He tried his hardest to keep most activities outdoors. Although admittedly I could never appreciate our adventures at the time, I now miss the fragrant smells of nature—the beach mist, dry and wet sand, young trees, their sap and the feel of flower petals running through my fingers. 

Myranda Escamilla Collaged Deer Skull

The stillness and calm it brings is overwhelming in the best way. Life is dull when it is spent mostly inside, encased and enclosed. The erratic nature of wildlife as opposed to our way of living—as humans, with our emails and texts, faxes, game boys, and laptops—is mysterious, beautiful, boundless, and colorful.”

Escamilla accepted the skulls “as they were—blank and natural,” but was intrigued by the thought of changing them. “How could I alter an already interesting and beautiful specimen to make it more beautiful? I was challenged and that was enough to prompt me to take my wallet out. And so they went home with me.”

She embellished the first skull with small cuts in a napkin, the second she painted to look distressed, “as if it was being reborn or taking on a new soul.” Over time, her collages have become increasingly intricate.

When asked where the impulse to collage animal skulls comes from, at first she can’t explain. “It just happens and perhaps it is my subconscious, but if that is the case I cannot help but ask—what is it saying, what does it mean? Those questions drive me nuts. I do not think about it often and I try not to ... too knotty.”

But when I admit that they first struck me as a reminder of the way humans have sought—and in many instances found—ways to control the natural world, that I find her skulls both beautiful and ominous, she has more to say.

“I suppose the skulls can be something of a reminder of what has been lost and what should be held near our hearts. Many times, I have obtained skulls that were either going to be thrown away or left outside to wither. In adding ‘a human touch’ I am ultimately giving it a piece of myself, honoring its forgotten existence, if you will.

Myranda Escamilla Painted Skull 

“Perhaps they seem ominous and haunting because they are in fact, no longer living. We tend to associate skulls with death, the macabre, fear and the unknown. Death strikes immense curiosity in me, I cannot fathom it—how we live and live and live and then ... all is gone. What should you make of your life if it is bound to cease at any moment?

“Working with skulls helps me to become more comfortable with the inevitable final stage of life, to accept it. The juxtaposition presented by the skulls is so striking because you are instantly caught between life and death.” 



 Photo by Ángel Raúl Ravelo Rodríguez 

If you’re the kind who ventures out on foot after dark, you’ve almost certainly noticed a hypnotic blue glow flashing inside windows throughout the neighborhood. And when you see people held captive by a box of moving light, you can’t help but think that humans seem complicit in their own capture—even if you’re no stranger to a great episode of Planet Earth or Arrested Development yourself. Does it matter whether they’re watching American Idol, Mad Men, or Real Housewives?

For decades, people have worried that television and movies would take away the public’s agency, the collective drive to do anything but work and buy things advertised on TV. It’s a justifiable fear. People do seem pretty entrenched in a lifestyle that revolves around working, eating, and watching TV.

Of course, there’s also a history of resistance to this prescribed lifestyle, and not just among academics. Ray Bradbury wrote his 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451, to caution against “the moronic influence of popular culture through local TV news and the proliferation of giant screens and the bombardment of factoids.” In 1967, Timothy Leary urged a gathering of 30,000 hippies to “turn on, tune in, drop out” (a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan). Such messages urged audiences to avoid a lifestyle of shallow entertainment and consumption in favor of unmediated experience and action toward positive change.

But money has a way of rendering its critics useless. Now the hippies’ peace sign is converted into profits at big box stores, where workers are underpaid and money is funneled to warmongering presidents. And the purchase of a tie-die rainbow dress from a popular bohemian concept shop might well further the career of a dogmatist politician. From hippie to hipster, attempts at cultural overhaul have been bought, sold, and used against those trying to change the system. What’s a rebel to do?

Some have attempted to fight fire with fire. While punks, hip-hop kids, and culture jammers didn’t invent the art of the remix, they popularized it. On the surface, remixing seems pretty innocent. Take a sample of culture—an instrumental hook, an image, or word from a magazine—cut, paste, and make it your own. Most memes (and their variants) do this for a laugh, but it can be seen as an act of defiance. Those who remix refuse to passively consume. They insist on answering the nebulous assertions of mass media, however small their voices may be. It’s a fine line, though, between remix and copyright infringement.

Enter Anonymous. The group has emerged as a leader in defense of democratic control of information  threatened by corporate copyright and money’s influence on Capitol Hill. Anonymous understands the value of open-source culture and has fought to protect it. In its own gesture of sampling, the group turned a mask worn by the fictional protagonist in V for Vendetta into a real-world icon of rebellion. The mask has a complex history of evolving meaning, explains Molly Sauter on HiLobrow, beginning with Guy Fawkes’ involvement in a Epic Fail Guy tallfailed plot to assassinate King James in 1605. Though Fawkes was killed, his legend lived on through folk tradition, a comic book series, and that series’ Hollywood film adaptation. The popularity of the Guy Fawkes mask sold in costume shops post-film was waning when an internet forum playfully revived it to serve as the face of Epic Fail Guy, “a stick figure who failed at everything,” writes Sauter. “It’s unclear whether this association had anything to do with the historical story of Guy Fawkes (whose Gunpowder Plot was, in fact, an EPIC FAIL), or whether it was due simply to the marketing blitz for V for Vendetta. Either way, the initial popularity of the mask within the Anonymous community was directly due to its association with Epic Fail Guy, and only indirectly (if at all) to political sympathy with either the historical Guy Fawkes or V for Vendetta.”

When Anonymous began its sidewalk protest of the Church of Scientology, the mask was worn mockingly to expose the religion as an “epic fail,” suggests Sauter. However, as Anonymous’ actions gained recognition, offline embrace of the mask caused its meaning to shift again:

“The symbolism of the mask itself, adopted by anti-authoritarian protesters from [Occupy Wall Street] to the Arab Spring, seems to have reverted to more closely embody the meaning in the V for Vendetta comics and film. Rather than overtly mocking those targeted by the protesters, the mask (an anarchic folk hero with a smile and curved mustache) serves as a political identifier. The wearer is identified as anti-authoritarian, a member of an online generation that values the freedom of communication and assembly that the internet has so powerfully enabled.”

The meaning of the mask was influenced by many, but controlled by none. It became a sign, a word in the language of resistance. Far from simple imitation, this transformation seems to have happened almost by chance.

Anonymous Guy Fawkes maskThough the mask signifies rebellion, it has not escaped the constructs of copyright and consumption. Nick Bilton of The New York Times points out that every time a mask is purchased, protesters strengthen one of the world’s largest media companies, Time Warner. There is no denying this claim, but Bilton misses the point. Rather than inventing a new icon of resistance, which would in time be packaged for the masses and sold à la peace signs, Che Guevara, and the Obey Giant, protesters have reclaimed an item that media companies had rendered all but meaningless. It’s a product, sure, but it gives dissidents something no advertisement sells: temporary anonymity. In freeing its wearers from identity, the mask also frees them from their individuality, allowing them to be subsumed, for a fearless moment, by a greater cause. It’s almost the reverse of Bilton’s argument—critics of corrupt capitalist practices have found a way to exploit the system, which distributes the face of their protest.

The Guy Fawkes mask is not the only example of this leap from mass media to the streets. In an article for Guernica Rebecca Solnit wrote that a friend arrested at an Occupy protest had posted “Max gave me the Hunger Games salute in jail today. It was awesome,” in a status update on Facebook. “In this way,” writes Solnit, “do fiction and reality meld in misery and triumph […].” It seems people are expanding the vocabulary of the 99 percent, and symbols spread wide by mass media make for a convenient starting point.

The messages contained within film, television, and books inevitably infiltrate public thought and discussion. The more aware we are of their influence, the more control we have over it. In the hands of engaged audiences, mass media have the potential to contribute to a broad language of protest. By using the internet and streets as a public forum, people create and change this language, and the gap between citizen and consumer narrows. Rebellion can be co-opted by consumerism, but the reverse might also be true.


Images, top to bottom: "televisión lado A" by Ángel Raúl Ravelo Rodríguez licensed under Creative Commons; Epic Fail Guy; Anonymous crop, from a 2008 photo with Graham Berry at the Hamburg conference on Scientology, licensed under Creative Commons. 



 Barclays Protest 

After news reports and books raised awareness about the link between commodities trading and starvation, food justice advocates took action and big bank Barclays responded.  

This morning I opened my email to a note from journalist Fred Kaufman that read, “Yes, a book can make a difference!” Attached was a report that Barclays, a large UK bank, had announced that they would stop trading in food derivatives markets.

This was good news. Fred and I had spoken last fall about his new book, Bet the Farm, which exposed the connection between agricultural derivatives markets and price spikes on staples like wheat—with impacts around the world ranging from starvation to riots. In the interview, I picked his brain on topics from deregulation in commodities markets to what everyday people can do to stop unethical trading schemes. I wrote about it all in “Spinning Wheat into Gold,” but one big takeaway was that rallies and political action are going to be the most successful way to get banks to change and to get tougher governmental regulations back. Looks like he was right.

After activist campaigns in the UK raised awareness about the human cost of speculation on food, Barclays chief Antony Jenkins announced today that the bank would stop doing it, writes Miriam Ross for the World Development Movement.

Until now, Barclays has been the UK’s biggest bank to buy and sell on the food derivatives market. While the bank’s agreement to end such trading is a victory, one campaigner with the World Development Movement emphasized that it is not enough for banks to opt out of agricultural commodities markets. There must be increased regulation so that they don’t start again.

Here in the states—where wheat speculation was born and the commodities index was invented—we have yet to see a strong movement emerge to end such trading.

Image: Street theatre at a Barclays protest rally, photo by World Development Group. 

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