Friday, January 08, 2010

Baker and Buettner

Longevity and the Green Front

By John Taylor; 2010 Jan 08, Sharaf 08, 166 BE

I've been working on a proposal for a radio show over the past few weeks, which is why there have been so few posts on the Badi' List and Badi' Blog.

I just posted on the Badi' Blog a Talk about longevity that one Dan Buettner gave last fall. Buettner visited areas of the world where people live the longest and sums up the major lessons he learned in this talk. Most impressive to me was a group photograph taken in Okinawa of five old women, close friends since kindergarten, whose average age is over one hundred. How long lasting are our family relationships, much less our friendships? I felt great shame when I saw that picture, for I do not remotely have that many stable friendships, and those I do have are separated by long distances. How many schoolmates from kindergarten do you still keep in touch with? If you are like me, none (okay, I did not go to kindergarten, but you get the idea).

I have been proposing a modular housing system that encourages mobility, but that photo made me pause. Perhaps the housing system should allow enclaves where this sort of close, long term relationship, not only among family members but friends too can flourish. The way Buettner describes it, these super-long lived villagers do not even have a word for retirement, but they have a word for "what makes you get up in the morning," meaning your calling (I think "what makes you get up in the morning" is a good definition of faith as well). When you live as long as these people do, your "working life" is a relatively brief phase, so it makes sense to stay in one place and accommodate your work to your location rather than your location to your work.

Other than too much flexibility and mobility, my hillside housing proposal should promote most of the factors promoting long life on Buettner's list.

I have been reading two books by Richard St. Barbe Baker over the past few weeks, one his autobiography, "My Life, My Trees," and the other the account of his first expedition across the Sahara in the early 1950's called "Sahara Challenge." Both books are long out of print and were not easy to get a hold of. However, the autobiography I think is a great book, a classic that everybody should read. I was so impressed with the first two chapters of My Life, My Trees that I read them aloud to the kids as part of their daily study session. I may scan parts in and excerpt them on this blog.

The Sahara Challenge too is in many ways a very memorable work, since it records the early stages of what we now know as global warming. I had no idea that the vast Sahara and the desertification that surrounds it were such a recent phenomena. Everywhere Baker goes, even in the middle of the desert, he enquires about what happened to the trees and people remember, or the old people do, a time when there were forests, rivers and even agriculture.

When Baker visited India and Pakistan later, he met Nehru, who said that he had read Sahara Challenge three times and was applying Baker's suggested techniques for desert reclamation to the deserts there. No doubt, this had a big effect, but since Baker has fallen into obscurity and global warming has advanced, we seem now to have a defeatist attitude. There is nothing you can do to stop climate change, so why try?

Baker had the only answer: draft every army in the world, draft all the unemployed and underutilized talent in the world, and send them off to the borders of the desert planting trees. He called this the "green front," as if it were a war, which it is, a fight for human survival. New word to remember: green front.


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