Dystopia 15: Surprise

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another!


Dystopia 15:  Surprise

Jack squatted next to the lamp flame heating a cup of water in wooden tongs.  His brow furrowed with worry.  It seemed that being in love was all about worry.  The sounds of retching were coming from the brush to the left of his and Laissi’s camp but he did not dare go down the hill to help.  He had been chased off too many times.

Shortly into their relationship, Jack had worried about bleeding.  Other women he had been with bled, and it had frightened him the first time he had seen it.  But the woman he was with at the time had treated the bleeding nonchalantly and in the year that they were together it had only occurred twice.  Laissi bled every new moon as if tied to the celestial body in some mysterious way.  Jack was certain this was too much.   That it would weaken her.  He wanted her to see Paje about the bleeding,  but she had laughed and acted as nonchalant about the bleeding as the first woman Jack had known.  She had looked at his anguished face with an odd mix of  curiosity and concern in her own expression and reassured him that this had been going on since she was very young and that all the women she had ever known bled every moon cycle.  That they were all fine and it was normal for them.

After her assurances he began to see the pattern. All the young, adult women seemed a little more on edge right before the moon disappeared and seemed a little easier to get along with right after the moon reappeared. The women tended to snap at their children and be more demanding. The men more sullen.  So perhaps she was telling him the truth.  Then again maybe it was his imagination as he was on edge during that time.

Jack began to relax.  He even started to be slightly annoyed when the bleeding came.  And then the new moon came and she did not bleed.  Perhaps because he had been so focused on the bleeding Jack noticed its absence, where Laissi did not.  Jack could not help but feel a little relieved when the bleeding failed to start.  But his relief was short lived.  She had been right that the bleeding was a sign of good health and not bad. When the new moon came again, the bleeding did not start but the illness did.

The first morning she was up and out of his arms and down the hill before Jack even realized what had happened.  He sat up dazed on the bedroll and then heard her retching.  He ran down the small hill to see her braced on all fours dry heaving.  He held his breath and went to her aide but she immediately chased him off.  The worry did not start then.  In camps he had been in previously, food which was not fresh was eaten frequently and vomiting was the usual result.  But when it happened the next morning and the next…  Then he became worried.

Now she did go to Paje and returned with a tea.  A brew that Jack now added to the water he had boiled.  The sharp smell of ginger filled his nostrils.  The retching had stopped and he could hear her ascending their small hill again.  She had a blanket wrapped around her body against the early morning chill.  The tea had helped her a great deal but she still got sick in the early morning before she could get the first cup into her body.  She looked tired.  She looked way too thin.  It pulled at his heart to see her in this condition and the lines on his forehead grew deeper as she settled in beside him and took the fresh brewed tea.


Laissi was with the older women doing the sewing and looking after the children.  She had been allowed to do this since the sickness started.  At first she had railed against being with the older women and insisting that she was capable of working the fields.  She had insisted until she had fainted in the fields on one afternoon.  Then Callum had talked her into doing handicrafts “for a while” to let her body heal.  He had promised that there would be plenty to do when she was well again.

Now Jack harvested the last of the fall vegetables and helped to put the garden to bed for the winter.  He was on his hands and knees pulling beets when Callum worked his way along side him in his own row of beets.

“We will be done with the harvest in the next few days, Jack.”  Callum said in Guarani.

Jack’s Guarani had improve substantially under Laissi’s tutelage but he was still far from fluent and today his mind was still occupied with worry and not up to a conversation, “Yes.”  was all he managed.

“After the harvest, we can spare a few men to help you make a hut.”

Jack thought of the suffocating air inside the houses and how they reminded him of his cell at Fort Cheney.  He and Laissi were now sleeping inside the tent every night and he could no longer gaze at the stars as he fell asleep, but the tent didn’t have the same claustrophobic feeling that the huts had.  “We do not need a hut.  The tent is fine.  We have plenty of blankets.”

“Jack, you are a Jaguar now.  You do not need to sleep outside of the village.  You are one of us.”

“I know.”  Jack smiled as sense of warmth and gratitude swept over him.  But still the stifling air of a hut,  “I like being a Jaguar, and I thank you Callum.  But I like sleeping in the tent.”

Callum rose up off his hands and threw the last beet he had picked into his basket.  He kneeled looking down at Jack as Jack continued to work his row.  “You can’t behave like a child about this Jack.  Not any more.  Its no longer about what you like!  Laissi needs a proper home if she is going to be a mother.  You must start thinking like a father.”

Jack rose to his own knees and stared at Callum.  His eyes were wide and round.  His mouth was agape.  Pregnancy was rare in the forts that Jack had inhabited in the North.  It was a cause of celebration but also of trepidation.   Parents had to find enough food to feed a new baby and even if the child was born healthy the likelihood of making it to adulthood was still small.  There were other risks as well.   It was clear to Jack that the Jaguars were blessed with more children than he had ever seen in one place before.

But the idea of being a father himself had never occurred to Jack.  His own father had died when Jack was seven.  His mother when he was nineteen.  He had avoided knowing too much about the feminine mysteries, and he had not seen enough women bear children to know what the symptoms of carrying a child were in any case.   Or how to behave toward a child.    He had not thought to investigate these particular mysteries of life while he was just trying to survive his own life.

All of this Callum read on Jack’s face.  Callum suddenly grew impatient with Jack,  “How could you not know?  It is obvious to everyone!  How could you be so blind?”

Jack dropped his eyes.  He sunk back on his haunches.  Had he failed Laissi so quickly in their relationship?  The thought of being a father loomed large in his head.  Impossible.  A picture of his own father messing his hair and calling him “Disaster” floated in his memory and pulled at his heart.  Had he failed his own son…or daughter…before he/she even made it into the world?  After a moment he raised his eyes to Callum whose passion had cooled and now looked at Jack sympathetically.

“I am sorry.”  Callum said.  “Sometimes the things we are closest to are the most difficult to see.”

“When can we start the hut?”


Jack gazed across the table at Laissi as they ate their evening meal.  Since getting the tea from the Paje, she usually felt better in the evening and ate well, in fact greedily.  But Jack knew half of what she ate would end up on the desert floor by morning.

Jack himself was not hungry this evening.  He pushed the food around on his plate but little of it made it to his mouth.  He spent most of the meal silently watching Laissi eat and chat with the older women.  His feelings toward her were a jumble and he could not sort them out.  The worry was ever present but it had morphed once again.  He was no longer worried about the vomiting.  After his conversation with Callum, it appears that the sickness was a temporary problem and due to right itself soon.  Now he worried about the woman in one of the forts who had screamed for days before she and the child she carried died when it failed to come into the world.

Deeper there was another more immediate emotion.  Anger.  He had opened himself up to her and she had not told him what she knew.  She had closed him out.  She had betrayed his trust.  But more immediate still was a sense of shame.  She had embarrassed him in front of his one good friend, Callum.  As childish as this emotion was, it was taking the lead over all of the others.

When they were done with their meal Laissi rose to get her sewing which she usually did in the company of the other women in the evenings.  Jack grabbed her elbow.

“Not tonight.  Come with me tonight.”  he pleaded.

She smiled up at him.  She was indeed feeling better in the evenings and was even occasionally hungry for him.

They slipped away and began to make their way to the tent.  Jack walked beside her silently for a while and when they had cleared most of the huts of the village he asked her in a voice choked with emotion, “Why didn’t you tell me?  You knew I didn’t know.  You let me worry.”

She stopped.  He took a few extra steps before he realized that she had stopped.  Then he turned to look back at her.  Her expression was masked by the dim light.  “Do you think you would have worried less if you had known?  Do you think now is a good time to bring a child into our world?”

“Worried less?  No.  Worried differently.  But still, I had a right to know.  Eventually I had to know.  You should have been the one to tell me.”

“Who did tell you?”


She nodded.  “Why did he say anything?”

“He thinks I should build you a shelter.”

She looked up at him.  “Are you?   Will you build a home?”

“Is that what you want?”

She looked away from him and at the village.  “I don’t know what I want any more.”

There was a silence between them.  Then Jack said with a sense of finality that he really did not feel, “Yes.  We will build a home.”

She looked back at him and even in the dim light he could see the glint of water at her eyes.  The confusion in his head cleared to one crystalline emotion.  He closed the distance between them and took her in his arms, just as she began to weep.

The Concepts Behind the Fiction:

1.  Polar Bears and Human Beings

In British lowland rivers, 50 percent of male fish were found to be growing eggs in their testes. Hermaphrodite polar bears have also been born. In Lake Meade in the US, male fish are trying to lay eggs because of the concentration of estrogen or estrogen-like chemicals in the water.  Six months ago, former Vice-President Al Gore said that the polar bear population was decreasing due to global warming. But studies have shown that there is significant estrogens in the polar ice caps down to at least 3 feet. This may be the real reason.  Gender Bender

Wiig tracked 14 likely mother bears, expecting 11 or 12 to give birth this past spring. Only five did.  LA Times

What do polar bears and humans have in common?  We are both omnivores at the top of our food chains and we are both becoming infertile at an alarming rate.

Tests showed much higher levels of the toxins in Svalbard’s polar bears than in their North American cousins, said Janneche Skaare, a toxicologist who tests samples taken by Wiig.


“We couldn’t understand why the polar bears at Svalbard would be more affected than those in Canada, which is a more polluted area,” Skaare said.


“But Svalbard is the center for air and water currents from the United States and Europe, as well as eastern Europe via Russia,” said Skaare, who heads the toxicology and chemistry department at the Norwegian College of Veterinary Medicine and the National Veterinary Institute.  LA Times

In addition to polar bears; deer, otter, frogs, birds, seals, salmon, and whales are having problems with fertility.  Some of these animals are not the top of the food chain, but all of them have been discovered to have chemicals in their systems that are interfering with their reproduction.

Such levels in seals weaken their immune systems and cause sterility by deforming the uterus or Fallopian tubes, which prevent eggs from descending, Wiig said.  LA Times

Children are developing signs of puberty at the ripe old age of 5.  Fewer and fewer babies are male.    Breast cancer rates have increased at a rate of 90% in 50 years. Women’s breast size is 2 cup sizes larger than it used to be. The evidence for toxins as the culprit is mounting.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tests the “body burden” of chemicals every two years, finds the average American now has 116 synthetic compounds in her body, including dioxin (produced by burning plastic), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (found in auto exhaust) and organochlorine pesticides (found in farming areas).

Recent studies have detected these pesticides, plastics and polymers not only in umbilical cord blood, but in the placenta, in human milk and in the bloodstreams and body fat of infants.  Women’s Enews

One toxin threatening mothers and children is mercury, which can spur breast cancer, autism and attention deficit disorder. In 2002, a study found that 1 in 6 U.S. women of reproductive age has enough of this contaminant in her blood to endanger a developing fetus.  Women’s Enews

It appears that some chemicals can adversely effect humans for as much as 4 generations causing decreased fertility, endocrine diseases, or increased cancer rates in the great, great grandchildren of those exposed.

“Our increased susceptibility to a variety of illnesses may be related not just to our exposure to these chemicals, but to exposures our mothers and grandmothers experienced during pregnancy,” says Theo Colborn, president of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, an environmental advocacy group based in Paonia, Colo.


The Washington-based Environmental Working Group in May tested mother-and-daughter pairs and found that each daughter had more chemicals in common with her mother than with other women. Because the mothers had decades more exposure, they had levels of lead, mercury and flame retardants in their bodies up to 5.2 times higher than their daughters.  Women’s Enews

2.  Crossing the Rubicon

“We’re sitting on top of a mesa right now, and we’re driving around, but we don’t have our lights on and we don’t even have a map,” says Jonathan Foley, a co-author of the new study and the director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. “That’s a dangerous way to move around.”Yale e360

“We are entering the Anthropocene, a new geological era in which our

activities are threatening the Earth’s capacity to regulate itself. We are

beginning to push the planet out of its current stable Holocene state, the

warm period that began about 10,000 years ago and during which agriculture

and complex societies, including our own, have developed and flourished,”

says co-author Professor Will Steffen, Director of the ANU Climate Change

Institute at The Australian National University. “The expanding human

enterprise could undermine the resilience of the Holocene state, which

would otherwise continue for thousands of years into the future.”  PR Newswire

“We’re running out of time,” says Rockstrom.

Toxins not only cause infertility.  Recent research indicates that they may also be responsible for the sudden increase in certain types of cancer (breast and prostate among them) and increases in autoimmune/inflammatory disorders.  Among these are diabetes, fibromyalgia, lupus, arthritis, asthma and a host of others.

In past entries I have pointed out that global warming is not the only environmental crisis that we face.  Finally the media seems to have taken note of that.

A group of 28 internationally renowned scientists propose that global biophysical boundaries, identified on the basis of the scientific understanding of the Earth System, can define a ‘safe planetary operating space’ that will allow humanity to

continue to develop and thrive for generations to come.  PR Newswire

Rockstrom helped organize a workshop in Stockholm in April 2008 where environmental scientists talked about the other possible thresholds that might exist on a global scale. They concluded that there was good evidence for nine kinds of thresholds: climate change, ocean acidity, the ozone layer, freshwater use, the movement of nitrogen and phosphorus, the amount of land used for crops, aerosols (haze and other particles), biodiversity, and chemical pollution.

The scientists then reviewed each of those factors to mark boundaries that the world should not push beyond. “The idea is to say, ‘Let’s put up some guard rails,'” says Robert Costanza of the University of Vermont. “Maybe the guard rails are for a slope we could have taken and survived, but maybe not. We owe it to human civilization to be more careful.”  Yale e360

In their new study, Foley and his colleagues put down stakes to mark where they believe seven of these boundaries lie. By their estimate, we have already pushed beyond three of these boundaries, and are moving quickly toward the other four. “We’re running out of time,” says Rockstrom.  Yale e360

In addition, it emphasizes that the boundaries are strongly connected – crossing one

boundary may seriously threaten the ability to stay within safe levels of

the others.  PR Newswire

The inner green shading represents the proposed safe operating space for nine planetary systems. The red wedges represent an estimate of the current position for each variable. The boundaries in three systems (rate of biodiversity loss, climate change and human interference with the nitrogen cycle) have already been exceeded.

Three of the categories proposed by the researchers actually fall under the general term “toxification” that I have been using during this blog and one of the categories they are using has hit the red zone.

The scientists also argue that as we spread fertilizer on farmland and burn coal, we are pumping far too much nitrogen into the environment. Human activity releases 121 million tons of nitrogen, much of which ends up polluting rivers, lakes and oceans and potentially pushing their ecosystems into irreversible changes. At most, the scientists argue, less than 35 million tons of nitrogen would be a safe boundary.  Yale e360

A lake, for example, can absorb a fair amount of phosphorus from fertilizer runoff without any sign of change. “You add a little, not much happens,” says Shahid Naeem of Columbia University, who was not involved in the Nature paper. “Add a little more, not much happens. Add a little… then, all of sudden, you add a little more and – boom! – phytoplankton bloom, oxygen depletion, fish die-off, smelliness. Remove the little phosphorus that caused the tipping of the system, and it does not reverse. In fact, you have to go back to much cleaner water than you would have imagined.”  Yale e360

In addition to coal burning and crop run off, here are the other two areas where we have exceeded our safety zone and have crossed tipping points:

For one thing, they argue, we’ve already put too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. James Hansen, a NASA climate scientist and co-author of the Nature paper, has argued that to avoid catastrophic melting of ice sheets, we should keep carbon dioxide levels no higher than 350 parts per million. Before the Industrial Revolution, the concentration was at about 280 parts per million, but today we’re up to 387. In other words, we’ve moved out of the safe operating space – and into risky territory.–Yale e360

The rate at which species are becoming extinct is also far beyond a safe boundary, according to the scientists. During most of the history of life, species have become extinct at a slow, fairly regular pace. And as old species have become extinct, new ones have been evolving. There have been times when many species have become extinct at a much faster rate, and these pulses have sometimes ushered in a global collapse of ecosystems. The authors of the new Nature paper propose that to avoid collapse, the extinction rate cannot rise above 10 times the long-term background rate. Today, however, scientists estimate that the extinction rate is 100 to 1,000 times higher.  Yale e360

If you are a long time reader to this site none of this should come as a surprise.  But I want to stress that although this is a dire warning coming from the science community, it is not a hopeless one.  We still have time but we must start now.  We must put this at the top of the list of things our generations needs to address.

“Within these boundaries, humanity has the flexibility to choose

pathways for our future development and well-being. In essence, we are

drawing the first – albeit very preliminary – map of our planet’s safe

operating zones. And beyond the edges of the map, we don’t want to go. Our

future research will consider ways in which society can develop within

these boundaries – safely, sanely and sustainably,” says co-author

Professor Jonathan Foley, Director of the Institute on the Environment at

the University of Minnesota.  PR Newswire

While the paper makes for a sobering read, its authors think we should also find some cause for optimism in it. Humanity nearly crossed another threshold by destroying the ozone layer with chlorofluorocarbons. But we recognized the crisis in time and banned chlorofluorocarbons, allowing the ozone layer to slowly recover. If we had waited much longer we might have been too late to do anything. “We were able to avoid a global disaster,” says Rockstrom. He hopes we can do the same again, and keep human civilization from falling off the environmental mesa.  Yale e360

Interactive Nature Article

Stockholm Report

Press Release


  1. I am posting early because my former job disappeared and I am traveling this weekend for a job interview. I will try to post again next weekend but I will be on the road so I hope you understand if I am not able to do so. TP

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