In honour of the work of Joy Bear and Richard Thomas, who coined the word petrichor in 1964 to describe the aroma earth emits when rain falls*, I offer potamichor.
ποτάμι Potámi ~ greek ~ river.
Ichor ~ The sacred blood of the Greek Gods.
Potamichor ~ a familiar odour of rivers.
Dimethyl sulfide**, along with other elements and biochemicals, offer the familar and pungent sulphurous odour of sea spray, an important moment of the sulphur/sulfur cycle that aids protein, vitamin and hormone building – I’ll call the smell thalassicor (sea/blood of the gods).
And in the same vein, estuaries and saltmarshes create ekvolichor (estuary/blood of the gods); lakes give off limnichor; ponds – limnoulichor: swamps and bog – telmichor.
Potamichor is complex, with varying cocktails of minerals, biochemicals and olifactory matter bound to be unique to the continuums of river-place given geological, meteorological, climatic, symbiological, microbial (including respiration), ecological and anthropological (extrinsic/intrinsic impacts).
With complexity in matter and directionality, and in a constant state of flux, salmonids, lampreys, twait shad and sturgeon know more than we ever could about potamichor. They smell their particular birth-streams miles out to sea, and without the use of material and energy-greedy tools. Perhaps migratory birds use these cues to navigate too, high up in the atmosphere. And more? Imagine.
** Shemi, A., Alcolombri, U., Schatz, D. et al. Dimethyl sulfide mediates microbial predator–prey interactions between zooplankton and algae in the ocean. Nat Microbiol 6, 1357–1366 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41564-021-00971-3
The Anthropocentric mode of being. Norm of the Anthropocene. A problem.
Anthropo, of the human. Mode from modus “measure, extent, quantity; proper measure, rhythm, song; a way, manner, fashion, style” (in Late Latin also “mood” in grammar and logic), from PIE root *med- “take appropriate measures.”
Tethering any potential vitanance of ecosystems to an ill-ecological disunion or dominion of human behaviour ~ mistake.
Economies, law and other human modes of existence are not fully diverse, inclusive and based on ecologism.
For clarity, just in case people don’t understand this word I now use instead of Environmental Ethics in the field of Philosophy.
I contend there is no such thing as an external ‘environment’, based on new/ancient understanding of the interconnectivity of all, within and without. We are symlings among symlings, inhaling, ingesting, excreting, respiring, transpiring what is without and within. All is flow in the nagorasphere.
In a sense, environmentalism never truly reflected reality, and so was always going to fail in the long run. Evidence abounds.
Sym ~ assimilated from Greek form of syn- word element meaning “together with, jointly; alike; at the same time;” from PIE (proto-indo-european) ksun or sm meaning “together”.
Bio ~ from Greek bios “one’s life, course or way of living,” from PIE root *gwei- “to live.”
Ethics ~ from Latin ethica, from Greek ēthike philosophia “moral philosophy.”
The word average has an interesting etymology. It originally seems to have been derived from an Arabic word, ‘awariya, ” meaning damaged merchandise.
Since the Middle Ages, the shipping and insurance industries adopted the term, I guess due to the high risks of damage from voyages on the high seas. If a ship were in trouble, and cargo, or ships masts, or other material goods, perhaps even crew or living cargo (human or not), were thrown overboard in order to save the vessel, then losses were calculated by producing a mean ‘cost’ for each claimant for Insurance purposes.
Italian avaria and French avarie meant “damage to ship.”
Later, during the 18th Century Georgian or Enlightenment era, the word evolved into the general mathematical term we recognize today.
Climate policy is dominated by the science and maths of global averages. We are all attuned to hearing mentions of the 1.5 to 5 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial averages.
As Dr Peter Scott, Head Climate Monitoring and Attribution at the Met Office writes,
“To understand changes and variations in our climate, it is essential to know how the surface temperature changes – from month to month, up to decade to decade. Global-average temperature records provide this vital information. From these records we can see how warm specific months, years, or decades are, and we can discern trends in our climate over longer periods of time. Global records go back about 160 years, giving a long period from which to draw conclusions about how our climate is changing.” (Met Office website)
We live in one biosphere, yes. Global averages are extremely critical, of course, for a global overview. But I contend this is now an ethical problem because regional variation in outcomes is real. Global average obsession must be reigned in. Averaging is damaging.
It does not relay the real story of what is happening in terms of human equity or volatility, and at the higher ranges or peaks of temperature. Nor does any other kind of global average; precipitation, ocean warming, drought, for example.
The differences in regional water availability, (living) biomass and ecosystem function, migratory capacity, and human access to energy for cooling technology vary, sometimes drastically, from place to place. To sideline all these variations will be affecting lives directly, both Homo sapien and Tere sapien. We are reaching the point of moral injury, quite frankly, if these lives are devalued by the process of concentrating on global averages in the public sphere.
I suggest the scientists and communicators, particularly those living in the relative safety of the northern hemisphere (though that is also changing), recognize the shortcomings of constantly emphasizing global averages to persuade populations and policymakers ~ it has become an averimania!
Instead, we should be discussing localized impacts, especially given economic disparity. It might even lead to those disparities being properly addressed and a new kind of fair politics going forwards into increasingly uncertain times.
Along with preventing emissions, there is an absolute duty to plan for extremes, mass movements, and potential conflicts. Because these are where life is most at risk, and since all things are interconnected, the risks are compounded by multiple and cumulative breakdowns in life-flow.
I was fortunate to be sent the following from my Twitter friend Verónica Ansaldo, who is from Chile, in response to this blog. I attach it here, with her kind consent; a brilliant quote, and I’m grateful.
Averages hide inequalities. Nicanor Parra, a famous Chilean poet and physicist wrote: “There are two loaves of bread. You eat the two. I dont eat any. Average consumption: one loaf per person.”
There are more than 48,000 species of them around the globe, some yet undiscovered by humans, and all of them, bar one that we know of, are predators. They are hugely diverse, reflect all spectrums of light, and are individually character-full.
I am being lured into their web of life.
Araneae are air-breathing invertebrates, with eight legs, fangs to inject venom, and spinnerets that extrude silk. Silk is a protein fibre, and used to create food traps, nests, egg coverings, and air transport systems. Imagine if we, through our own bodily secretions, could produce all these things: fishing lines, bed linen, baby blankets, and parachutes. There are at least 7 types of silk-making glands, and all spiders have at least three. Some silks are stronger than steel for their weight. Spiders are an essential group of living beings (predators are essential), who may live deep in caves we humans will never visit, and float as high as the clouds when ballooning across continents. They have their own microbial symbioses, most of which we still have little idea. Some spiders are crucial for distributing fungal spores. In rainforests all around Earth, some larger spiders rely on narrow-mouthed frog species for survival, and in utter reciprocity.
They can fish, fly, cave and row. The largest family jump. Some can sing, dance, and vibrate.
The diving bell spiders live in bubbles underwater for most of their lives.
My booted foot was once challenged, briefly, by a female Sydney funnel-web spider, the males being the most venomous in the world, and, in my view, both most fearfully angry. And unforgettable.
But the vast majority of spiders are harmless to humans. Most are solitary, though some are social. Some females cannibalize their male mates. Some males offer gifts in the hope of sparing their own lives. Some even fake them. Some mothers offer up their own dead bodies as food for their offspring.
Spiders have been evolving for some 300 million years, and are powerful, intricate and exquisitely adapted. Their relevant-stimuli (emotional responses to you and I) are basic, understudied, yet apparent. And they do feel pain.
I want to credit these rainbow warriors with a special kind of wisdom. Spider Wisdom, more spider than Spiderman. To have such wisdom is to be fiercely beautiful amongst all other life ~ to be spennowan.
I have been thinking of Earth Crisis, the sixth extinction and futures.
Paleontology proves such catastrophic shifts in abundance and diversity of life have happened before, and more quickly than one might imagine.
This time, the trajectories of evolution ahead of us, or the new biogenics of Earth systems, have been irreparably skewed or deviated by anthropogenic activity. Even an ice-age predicted by Milankovitch cycles has been prevented. The bitter truth is that, for a long while, certainly since the Rio summit of 1992, these harms have been a conscious effort ~ the first time in Earth’s history.
Very little has been done by way of prevention, as most are carried out in the name of economic growth and personal freedoms (as if totally justifiable). Further, there have been deliberate cover-ups of scientific data, campaigns to confuse and obfuscate, and huge amounts of capital spent to edify the unconscionable.
Knowingly harmful acts, both individually and cumulatively, continue to recalibrate an uncharted evolutionary/biogenic trajectory.
Hubris (latin) ~ wanton violence, insolence towards the gods.
Genesis (latin) – from PIE ǵenh ~ to produce, beget, give birth.
Hubrigenesis ~ the evolutionary aftermath of the biospheric violence of the Anthropocene.
Any continuation of the violence actively contributes to the hubrigenesis.