Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Revenge of the Blackbirds: Eco-parables from Mother Goose

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!
It is the world's poor who suffer the first ecological consequences of over-consumption by the rich.

The opening line of this dark parable announces its theme: the relation of economics ("sixpence") and food production ("a pocketful of rye"). The second line then introduces the problem: excessive or extravagant consumption. Once we have correctly identified the industrial capitalist ("the king"), the western consumerist ("the queen") and the worker from the two-thirds world whom they keep in subjection ("the maid"), then the tragic moral of this biting social commentary becomes clear.

Innocent children's nonsense song or a devastating critique of contemporary economics? You decide.

Of course, we could go on and identify the potent warnings and analyses found in other eco-parables from Mother Goose:
Jack and Jill - rising tensions over dwindling supplies of fresh water.
Doctor Foster went to Gloucester - climate change and de-globalisation, or the re-localisation of economies due to shifts in precipitation and sea level rise.
Hey Diddle Diddle - the deleterious effect on food security of astronomical beef production and excessive numbers of domestic pets.
The Grand Old Duke of York - indecision at Copenhagen.
Although I've indicated that points are currently on pause, I'll offer up to twenty for the best suggested readings of the hidden ecological messages encoded in other traditional nursery rhymes.


Anthony Douglas said...

Love the idea Byron!

Humpty Dumpty is obviously a comment on the fragility of the climate; it had seemed safe and stable ('on a wall') to earlier generations, perhaps. But in the aftermath of climate change being recognised (the 'fall' being inconvenient as a reference to warming, perhaps, but can work as a fall in suitability-to-sustain-life), there is a pessimism about the prospect of putting things back as they were. Neither the horses (the populations in general) nor the men (the leaders of the nations) of the King (God) can fix the problem. It begs for the King himself to intervene...

Little Boy Blue could also be fruitful, but it's too late at night for me to attempt it too.

Little Jack Horner - the self-centredness of wealthy nations in their own 'corners'.

Mary Mary Quite Contrary opens with a sarcastic enquiry!

Is it too late to change your thesis topic? ;-)

Michael Canaris said...

Along those lines, perhaps See Saw Margery Daw warns us of an apparent nexus between ecological disaster and changes in IR legislation.

byron smith said...

Well, I thought this one might get more takers, but apparently not. I'll award some points sometime soon to give a little longer for people to come up with more.

Unknown said...

I declined to comment as I didn't want to show my hand as an AGW skeptic who is, in his own words, 'a different shade of Green'.

Drat.. Just did.

I am usually tarred with the same brush as those who don't care about how we treat the environment but in fact I think that the shift in focus to 'carbon footprint' is taking away from much more important ecological matters. The prevailing attitude seems to be "Carbon is the most important issue so let's waste our money on low energy lightbulbs which we'll throw in the bin and end up poisoning our water supply with Mercury, switch to biodiesel and poison all the wildlife and humans in our area and pour our money into 'offsetting' something which termite mounds produce more of per year than we do".

Drat. Got too serious and political there. Bit of a flaw for me.

Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard to fetch her poor doggy a bone. When she got there she remembered that she'd spent all her money on carbon offsetting, the cupboard was bare, and so the poor doggy got none.


byron smith said...

MalaChi - I certainly agree that climate chaos is not the only ecological matter worthy of our attention. And I am also saddened by the attitude that thinks that throwing a few extra low-energy lightbulbs at the issue will solve it, or which is content to address one problem with a solution that only causes further (and perhaps larger) problems, or which avoids personal responsibility through a dubious offsetting mechanism. However, none of these is necessarily associated with taking anthropogenic global warming seriously.

Do you have a reference for your claim about termites?