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Monday, 19 November 2012

Ash to Ashes

The British are the most recent European nations to be made aware of an impending change in the landscape. Millions of Ash trees are fated to die, as a disease that has already decimated Scandinavian woodlands creeps over the United Kingdom. Eventually the dead trees, and the associated litter, will be burned; but the spores will remain in the soil and will fly on the wind. A tiny minority - perhaps 5% - of the trees have been found to be resistant, and a new strain of Ash may be identified; but it will never be possible to replicate the historic landscape.

Ash, like Oak, has had magical and mystical attributes attached to its by various cults, apparently throughout the history of humans in Europe. Richard Wagner captured this in the epic librettos for his operas, where the Ash has a specific role. Inevitably, today's doom-sayers have found scraps of Druidic and Nordic myth which associate the death of the Ash with the end of the world. Set alongside the heavily propagated fact that a Mayan carved calendar comes to an end on Friday December 21, 2012, the doomsters have a good field on which to express the view that our current economic and political problems are immaterial: merely minor signs of a complete catastrophe.

Next January we will have to face the economic and political dilemmas of a new year, accommodating in our thinking the added costs of addressing the Ash die-back disease. The soothsayers will quickly find another transcendent myth which will excuse them from taking any responsibility to address the urgent problems of the real world. The extent to which such myths gain attention from the public is a measure of the extent to which they despair of their own competence and of the politicians and bureaucrats in whom they have scant confidence. The time-scale for the Ash die-back disease to wreak destruction is indefinite: the Mayan myth is fixed on a single date. From December 22, the Ash myth will grow in popularity.

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