Archive for February, 2020

Knowledge as Prosperity

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

Aeonium arborescens; Dyffryn Gardens

1 Questions of prosperity

Consumer cultures, prosperous in terms of monetary wealth, generated by capitalist economics, continue to fuel unsustainable patterns of consumption, which yield poor returns of human well-being and environmental sustainability.  In a discussion paper redefining prosperity the Club of Rome posed questions, such as ‘What is a robust definition of prosperity in our times within the construct of humanity in service to a healthy planet?’ ‘What research challenges do we need to address in order to rethink the goal of economics for the rest of the 21st century.  In this connection, humanity has to find ways for people to become one with nature, replace gross domestic product as the main indicator of national success, and promote new measures of social progress driven by collaborating citizens in a culture of global ecology. Three concepts are fundamental to the success of such long term policies. 

First, the creation of well-being requires more than the remediation of problems, because this merely reduces ill-being. The whole global population has to shift towards new ways of flourishing by constructing institutions for the public good that are not dominated by capitalist economics or extreme left wing thinking.

Second, sustainable happiness results from what we do, not what we have.  Therefore we need to be able to create our own well-being and contribute to that of others without drowning in a sea of personal stuff. 

Third, we must expand non-capitalist institutions bit by bit, committed to rigorous evaluation of a socialism that is democratic and consensual to find out what works, for whom, for how long, for which outcomes and in what contexts. 

Fast-forward, ready-to-go solutions and consensus about the best pathway to take, do not currently exist to build robust human societies where equitable wellbeing and a healthy biosphere are two sides of the same coin. Robust means resilient, tested against experimentation, and actionable. A robust definition of cultural ecology will only come through a process of mutual learning.  This starts by asking better questions and kick starting an experimentation phase to even out the spread of Earth’s finite resources within and between nations. In this context, the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP) invites us to consider experimenting with the role of arts in culture, not simply as a tool for communicating sustainability, or as a way of envisioning the good life, but as an inherent component of individual creative prosperity.  Such national experiments integrating arts in culture may be seen in the two international expositions held in Paris in 1925 and 1928, which defined Art Deco.  

Advert for one of the delights of leisure spent at the seaside resort of New Brighton, travelling by train

The Art Deco Style was a global movement integrating contemporary living with art and turning life into art.  It was against those consciously working for the undoing of art. Its purpose was mass enjoyment and it featured prominently in the architecture and interior design of cinemas and everyday objects such as toasters and radio sets. In the late 1930s, during the Great Depression, it featured prominently in the architecture of the immense public works projects mounted in the United States, such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hoover Dam. 

The “Art Deco”, period lasted from the 1920s through the 1930s, but the term came from ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industrials Modernes’, an exhibition of decorative arts, held in Paris in 1925. By the 1920s, industrialisation had made rapidly expanding cities the hubs of commerce, residence and entertainment. Buildings within these cities served not just as physical structures to house people and businesses, but also as monolithic symbols of progress, promising that the future was something to look forward to, especially in the aftermath of the First World War.  Art Deco sold that vision in all its splendour and promise. It was the theme of an exhibition mounted by the UK Sainsbury Centre in 2020 to celebrate iconic seaside architecture, from hotels and apartment blocks, to piers, cinemas and lidos. It showcased Art Deco as a style synonymous with pleasure, leisure and entertainment. The exhibition demonstrated that art and culture facilitate participation in the life of society and contribute to a creative and fulfilling quality of life in the context of life-long learning.

The style came to an abrupt end in 1939 with the beginning of World War II but was rediscovered in the 1960s, and many of the original buildings have since been restored and defined as cultural heritage.  CUSP’s arts theme develops the conceptual framework for this approach and explores the complex interaction between cultural prosperity, place, the quality (and availability) of employment, leisure, and the rights to creative self-expression.  All outcomes fall into the category of non-material prosperity.  

The aim of the Paris Exposition des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne in 1928 was to bring together original artistic and industrial practices, thereby showing the ways in which artistic creativity could impact on all aspects of modern life.  Less ambitious than the 1925 Art Deco exhibition, and acknowledging a society of inequalities, the 1928 fair did not promote the French luxury trades, but rather focused on France’s place in the modern world as reflected through the country’s achievements in science and technology, whilst unconsciously marking the end of the Art Deco era.  What could be the art form of today to signify urbanised humankind’s new journey into a carbon free economy?  

If a new version of “Prosperity” has to be crafted to reorient public policies and action, what are the research challenges this process implies? Our knowledge about what produces individual and collective wellbeing, and how to achieve it at the lowest levels of ecological footprints, is still limited. What kind of meaningful metrics are needed for achieving “prosperity” in balance with the biosphere, for it to ĺbecome a new compass of economic policies? More generally, how do we ensure that research at large contributes to “Prosperity”? Should investments be linked to non-monetary prosperity outcomes and if so, how?  How do we ensure that the complex dynamics of research and innovation shift fast enough towards the desirable futures envisioned in this redefined “Prosperity”, which an increasing number of people view as participating in a global steady state economy? . 

2 Art Florensis

Dickson Despommier’s answer to questions of lifestyle and economics is essentially a high-rise series of ecosystems. The various greenbelts, horticultural features, gardens and farms located within the buildings double as public spaces. Despommier is the leader behind the “Vertical Farming” initiative, which argues for the creation of high-rise agricultural structures, that can grow and distribute food in urban areas. So we move into a new era of art and architecture that could be described as Art Florensis, acknowledging the important role that gardens and gardening play in the social evolution of Homo sapiens.

The importance of gardens and gardening for the general public was revealed in a poll for the UK National Trust carried out by Ipsos MORI in 2009.   Amongst the general public, over 7 in 10 thought that it was important to their quality of life to spend time in gardens. Gardens provide the public with opportunities to unwind and relax. This is the most frequently mentioned response (68%) when people are asked why spending time in gardens is important to them. It is important to people irrespective of their age or life stage. The majority of the public (80%) think that all children should learn about gardening including growing food at school; 38% of people strongly agree with this statement. Just over half the general public agree that the British are a nation of gardeners (53%); 12% of people strongly agree with this statement and the agreement increases with age; from 31% of 15-24 year olds to 66% of people aged 65+.  Out of those who believe spending time in gardens is of some importance to their quality of life, just under half (48%) feel it is on balance a more enjoyable activity than watching TV (33%), and shopping (14% ).

One of the unique characteristics of gardening is that it has an esthetic component, revealed in the direct use of plants alone and in groups as pleasing visual objects, and the use of gardening objects as a basic component of artistic expression. Art in gardening revolves around plants as beautiful objects, individually and en masse. This concept has generated distinct disciplines such as flower arranging and the floral arts, garden design and development as art installations, and landscape design and architecture.  Gardening in art, refers to the depiction of plants in connection with various manifestations of the visual arts such as sculpture and mosaics, drawings and painting, and embroidery and tapestry. The depiction of plants is one of the great themes in artistic expression as exemplified in their widespread use in decorative patterns in the design of innumerable objects, from floor and ceiling patterns, silverware, pottery and ceramics, coins and banknotes, to heraldry. 

The invention the urban skyfarm reinforces the idea that education is prosperity because knowledge can lead to big dreams and the likelihood to accomplish them.  Our whole life is really about increasing prosperity in the form of knowledge to keep up with the world that continues to change with new information. Educational prosperity is a lifetime investment.

“Urban Skyfarm” could turn a city’s high rise buildings into lush ecosystems.

3 The Oceanic feeling

The European Union considers that a planet rich in biodiversity is a prosperous planet, so the conservation of biological diversity is seen as key element in the fight against poverty.  Therefore, local communities, particularly those in developing countries, can benefit from the sustainable management of natural resources. The European Union is determined to halt and reverse current loss of natural resources and biodiversity by 2015 and manage natural resources in a sustainable and integrated manner. However, a rethink of capitalism which is wedded to the goal of year-on-year monetary growth is required to bring well-being in tune with Earth’s ecology as a public good.  In this context, knowledge of our place in a web of life represents individuals being endowed with wealth and prosperity measured by one’s knowledge about species richness and our involvement in it being maintained. So, it is important to find ways of feeling that we share a common ancestry with all living beings, a feeling which can aid both the quests for personal well-being and environmental sustainability. In this connection, in 1927, after having read Spinoza and the eastern mystics, Romain Rolland wrote a letter to Sigmund Freud where he, for the first time, used the term ‘oceanic feeling’, to describe an existential feeling of the self dissolving into the world, in a moment, without boundaries.  Oceanic as an adjective refers to a situation of enormous size or extent; huge; vast, a sensation of ‘eternity’, a feeling of “being one with the external world as a whole”. Rolland regarded oceanic feeling as the source of the mental energy that permeates various spiritual systems. He describes “oceanic feeling” as a mystical mindset that enables one to commune with the universe on equal terms. For Rolland, the “oceanic” was the affective state underlying all spiritual experience, so one may justifiably call oneself religious on the basis of experiencing oceanic feeling alone, even if one renounces every supernatural belief and every illusion. When feeling this way Nature is not an abstract amoral entity, it is a living presence, the fundamental matrix through which all beings are interconnected.  Freud discusses oceanic feeling in his Future of an Illusion (1927) and Civilization and Its Discontents (1929). There he deems it a fragmentary vestige of a kind of consciousness possessed by an infant who has not yet differentiated itself from other people and things.  In the same vein, the artist Michael Krausz has noted how the oceanic experience can be “an ingredient of a creative life journey, a part of a larger project of self transformation.” He elaborates: 

“As a consequence of my non dualistic experience… I now experience more clearly, more expansively, more richly, more perspicuously. Such changes in my ways of experiencing in turn affect what I produce. What I produce has affected my ways of experiencing. I think of my artmaking as a process in which who I am is enriched and transformed. In short, my art production fosters my self-transformation, and my self-transformation fosters my art production.”

Similarly, It appears to the philosopher, Jussi A. Saarinen, that oceanic feelings can play an important role in enhancing artistic , and in a more general sense, creative living. He presumes this is largely due to the  ability of oceanic feelings to emancipate us from habitual, common sense ways of experiencing dualistic boundaries between ‘self’ and ‘other’. Moreover, they may provide us with a brief yet alluring glimpse into a more flexible reality, and thus confront us with fundamental existential questions of what is inner/outer, self/not-self, and body/world. Embracing these questions creatively may well become the focus for lifelong inquiry-based learning, generating a wealth of knowledge in a post-capitalist world.  Interactions between science and culture in an oceanic state can therefore generate non-material prosperity.  

‘Oceanic’ can also refer to the seas in which life began and points to our biochemical connectedness with all non-human life forms with which we share a common, cellular plan.  Regarding ‘ocean’ as a noun, after working for decades on the Law of the Sea, Elisabeth Mann Borgese observed: “the ocean is a medium different from the earth . . . it forces us to think differently. The medium itself, where everything flows and everything is interconnected, forces us to “unfocus,” to shed our old concepts and paradigms, to refocus on a new paradigm”.

Therefore there are geopolitical, biopolitical, environmental, and evolutionary dimensions to this oceanic turn. 

4 Evolutionary progress

Some texts figure the ocean as a space for contemplating human origins and destiny. For instance, the marine explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau in The Perils and Potentials of a Watery Planet, explains “our flesh is composed of myriads of cells, each one of which contains a miniature ocean . . . comprising all the salts of the sea, probably the built-in heritage of our distant ancestry”. Elisabeth Mann Borgese, one of the founding members of the Club of Rome and the first Convention on the Sea, writes that “every human . . . is a good bit of planet ocean: 71 percent of his/her substance consists of salty water”.  In conclusion, an oceanic feeling appears to be a planetary feeling where the boundaries between self and the rest of nature are obliterated and a deep sense of peace and evolutionary connectedness pervades consciousness.

Proceeding from the redefined natural concepts of the 19th century, the philosopher Gunter Scholtz in his book ‘The Philosophy of the Sea’, traces the creation of modern criteria of ethical behavior to its culmination in a new bioethics. In the process he delves into aesthetics (the sea as the symbol of the sublime) and modern self-discovery (the sea as a mirror of the soul), drawing enlightening interdisciplinary connections between Antiquity and Modernity, moral philosophy, modern psychological research and contemporary environmentalism. All in all he makes an appeal for a contemporary environmental ethics that draws from the ancient enthusiasm for the teeming life of the oceans from which humanity evolved. This was the starting point for Julian Huxley’s idea of evolutionary humanism, now regarded as an educational system to support a “minimum sufficiency” lifestyle, which is based on a dramatic, poetic rendering of the human condition and its connections with other life forms. Especially valuable is Huxley’s analysis of evolutionary trends and his appraisal of evolutionary progress. 

Progress, as Huxley defines it, is not the same as specialization, nor does it rely upon any assumption that man is necessarily an “improvement” over earlier forms of life. Attainment of “greater control over the environment” and “greater independent of the environment [sic] . . . may provisionally be taken as the criterion of biological progress.” The latest advances in the progress of life have resulted from the attainment of conceptual thought found exclusively in humankind; indeed, “it would not have been evolved on earth except in man.”  As a result of this new power, man substitutes for the satisfaction of a few instincts “new and more complex satisfactions, in the realm of morality, pure intellect, aesthetics, and creative activity.” The introduction of criteria based upon values alters the direction of progress, or “it might be preferable to say that it alters the level on which progress occurs. True human progress consists in increases of aesthetic, intellectual, and spiritual experience and satisfaction.” This progress is something to be hoped for and therefore a measure of mental prosperity.

It is through the successful combination of living, work, and recreation, that most people find meaning in life and experience the greatest personal growth, development, and sense of wellbeing. Recreation and leisure activities should provide a return to the person that is greater than mere entertainment; that is, recreation and leisure activities should improve the person’s social, emotional, and physical well-being and have a spillover effect on the other domains of living and work. Indeed, recreation and leisure should be viewed and approached from the larger holistic perspective of wellness, which emphasizes physical fitness, nutrition, healthy life-styles, and stress management. To do otherwise would do an injustice to the concept of recreation for all persons, and to overlook the significant trend in our current society toward health promotion and management.

5 Hotspots of knowledge about evolution

Hotspots of evolution are regional concentrations of species that have been of interest to biogeographers since the early 1800s. They are also of interest to conservationists because of their potential to provide easy identification of sites for preservation of plant-dependent biodiversity.  The cultural needs of humanity have endowed plants with anthropogenic concepts that give clues to the evolution of the human mind and continuously add new dimensions to the history of humankind and plants. For example, it has been proposed that to qualify as a hotspot of evolution a region must meet two strict criteria.  It must have at least 1,500 vascular plants as endemics, which is to say, it must have a high percentage of plant life found nowhere else on the planet. A hotspot, in other words, is irreplaceable. Also, it must have 30% or less of its original natural vegetation. In other words, it must be threatened.

The study of past and contemporary symbolic uses of plants reveals elaborate forms of representation and communication, as well as refined conceptions of comic order, religious beliefs, and artistic codes. Such an interdisciplinary perspective of botanical knowledge gives structure to the biological and cultural environments experienced by humans, whereby plants take on symbolic roles reflecting cultural needs. Their biological and physical properties, forms, and life cycles lend themselves as materials for earthly manifestations of primeval and divine forces.  These forces used plants to interact and communicate with humans. Although plants had a plethora of symbolic meanings, they frequently embody positive achievements, virtues, and abstract concepts that revealed the best of humanity’s place in nature. So, traditionally, gardens have been seen as very special places where plants are contained or enclosed for human enjoyment. Plants kept inside a walled container are protected as paradises, where people can enjoy sounds of water and birds, can rest their eyes on green grass and bright flowers and delight in the fragrance.  At the same time gardens are places of botanical practices and symbolic narratives of philosophy, art and history. Whether the container is a walled garden, a greenhouse or a pot, they are places where Nature can be seen to meet Art.  They are hotspots of knowledge and metaphors about biodiversity.

Most of us can agree that plants are good and fundamental to our existence somehow, though often the benefits are subjective.  In other words plants provide an ecosystem service with an economic return. Indoor environments are important sources of biodiversity that people experience in their day-to-day lives.  According to the Flowers & Plants Association, the UK’s flower and indoor plant market is worth £2.2bn. According to Royal FloraHolland, a large Dutch flower marketplace, Europeans spent €35.9bn on houseplants and flowers in 2016,  Through a detailed examination of each of the sectors in which they operate, Oxford Economics estimate the ornamental horticulture industries directly added £12.6 billion to the UK’s GDP in 2017. According to the UK’s national accounts, this is greater than the direct Gross Value Added from contributions of the aerospace manufacturing industry in the same year, 

6 Selected succulents

The idea for the project ‘Selected Succulents’ as an evolutionary educational framework, came from a slide show produced by Donna Kuroda of the Washington DC Cactus Society, 16 October 2011, entitled “A Journey to Travel the Wide World of Aeoniums”.  Donna Kuroda was aiming at persuading people in Washington DC to build personal bodies of practical knowledge about ‘tree houseleeks’ (e.g. Aeonium arborescens). ‘Selected Succulents’ develops this idea to channel the art or practice of garden cultivation and management into an online framework for humanistic education focused on the topic of ‘population displacement’.  In this context, displacement is defined as the action of moving a living entity from its accustomed place to a new position. The educational objective is to help people make a domestic phytarium consisting of a collection of potted succulents and use it to develop the idea that we are embodied in Nature with respect to all that we do, from painting a house to managing a potted plant. Within this perspective the pot is a metaphor of ‘place’. Also a plant can be the metaphor for an ‘invader’ searching for a better life.  An “invasive species” is defined as a species that is non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration, and whose introduction causes, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. Such was the response in 2015, when the succulent ‘Jade Plant’, Crassula ovata, was reported as a new alien species for mainland China. Two small populations had been discovered in the city centre of Chengdu (Sichuan Province, western China). One was a small colony of a dozen vegetative individuals on a small roof at a building façade (accompanied by Kalanchoe daigremontiana, also a common invader).  The second one consisted of just 4–5 vegetative individuals (stems) also on a small roof at a building façade. The ability to predict patterns of vegetation responses to invasion is hampered by a poor understanding of which functional traits make some resident plants more or less vulnerable to invader impacts. After it was discovered the Jade plant was transferred to pots for research into its invasiveness . 

Regarding  humans, culture, politics, religion and educational systems are all forms of pots in which people find themselves. In most cases, these pots are forced upon people through a process of displacement. Like the Jade plant you do not choose and neither can you easily refuse the particular pot in which you find yourself. George W. G. a refugee who teaches English at ‘The Sanctuary’, a project for integrating refugees and asylum seekers into the community of Newport, South Wales, articulated this metaphor, which he called a ‘song of a plant in a pot’.   Ordinarily, a plant in a pot is a species displaced from its habitat. A displaced person is, like a potted plant, confined and dependent on carers to grow in an alien environment. George says:

“How dare a potted plant put out roots; reach out for air, water and the minerals required for its growth? The flowers and fruits a plant in a pot can bear are restricted according to the size and shape and location of the pot itself. The truth is that any plant can be kept in a pot, separated from its native species. Plants in pots live in a world of conformity and oppression; a situation of standing choked, feeling trapped, or living only in part. This is the song of a potted plant”.

The International Organisation for Migration defines environmental migrants as “persons or groups of persons who, for compelling reason of sudden or progressive change in the environment that adversely affects their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad”. 

Displacement was the theme of Patti Ortz’s art performance “I Am Here” in 2018 at the Luminaria Arts Festival in San Antonio, Texas. Ortiz employed ten young (all under 30), unofficial migrants to the US whose undocumented status often forces them into legal and social obscurity.  They were willing to share their experiences by providing oral testimonies while also performing during the art installation’s debut. Ortiz constructed a video montage of their testimonies that included scenes of a plant being ripped from its roots. To accompany the street performance on opening night, the performers and Ortiz also potted three hundred small plants, placing one tiny light inside of each pot that they then inscribed with the words “Take care of me/us.”   The lights illuminated the street performers whose testimonies filled the background soundscape bestowing radical visibility upon the ten young, rootless individuals.  

The performers spent hours rearranging the pots randomly, tending to them, and once in a while deciding to walk into the audience to hand them out. The performers were always seen as busy, always “working,” productively, but being unproductive, in a dignified way.  Some broke their silence while handing out plants, asking particular audience members if they would “Take care of me/us,” and handing them a plant only when they heard a “yes” from their lips. The plant then becomes a caring metaphor to activate the audience. 

From the sociological point of view of George W G and Patti Ortz, plants in pots are like asylum seekers, refugees and economic migrants.  They are not a homogenous group; they come from a wide range of countries, in different circumstances, and have diverse abilities to adapt to  life in new pots. Providing good quality ‘pot care’ hinges on positive regard for cultural identity, the diverse experiences of migration, and the capacity of carers to translate this principle into practical action to allow them to thrive.  This opens up the human needs for self-care, which involves lots of different, smaller processes, like enough sleep, a healthy diet, exercise, spirituality, connections with others, and activities for relaxation that bring joy. The people-plants stand in need of nourishment with plenty of fertile soil and regular watering and require a place in the best possible environment for health with sunlight away from toxins.

A potted plant as a displaced lifeform chimes with ‘The Global Report on Internal Displacement’, which presents the latest information on displaced people worldwide caused by conflict, violence and disasters.   Nearly 66 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2016. The total number of people seeking safety across international borders as refugees reached 22.5 million, with more than half of all refugees worldwide coming from only three countries: Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Syria. In 2016, the largest numbers of refugees came from countries in Asia and Africa, and most of them selected countries that were also in Africa and Asia.  Germany was the only European country high on the list.  

There were 28 million new displacements associated with conflict and disasters across 148 countries and territories in 2018.  The rate that will increase year on year as climate instability becomes the norm. As climate change impacts take greater hold people may well move more often and so your products and services may need to adapt to suit this. For example, people may own fewer material possessions and need more temporary housing.

From the point of view of plants, displacement is a fact of life. Over the past two centuries many plant species in the UK have been displaced from their natural ranges or enabled to arrive for the first time on UK shores because of deliberate introduction or climate change.  In the long march of evolution, ecological displacement refers to the process by which natural selection drives new arrivals, as competing species into different patterns of resource use or different niches. This is how the concept of resource partitioning relates to evolutionary change.  Colonisation and displacement are integral concepts of biological and social evolution. Succulents are good at this because they are able to survive for days without roots, drawing upon their water reserves in leaves and stems.

Against this interdisciplinary background, caring for a potted plant now becomes, metaphorically, a reminder of the importance of caring for places so that living things can  thrive there. Describing a plant and its pot and defining the conditions for its continued growth and reproduction develops the basic educational models for human selection and settlement and nature conservation management of threatened species under a single educational heading.  The project, ‘Selected Succulents’ uses European house leeks (Sempervivum) and other succulents, as experimental material to develop these interrelated ideas about displacement as a humanistic theme of people, plants, place and change.

7  Go with the flow

Indian residents queue with plastic containers to get drinking water from a tanker in the outskirts of Chennai, May 29, 2019. An unrelenting heat wave triggered warnings of water shortages and heatstroke in India on June 1.

FILE – Indian residents line up with plastic containers to get drinking water from a tanker in the outskirts of Chennai, May 29, 2019.

Plants with pronounced succulent tissues have different origins but have common ecological strategies. Two of these strategies are drought avoidance and salt tolerance. Drought- avoiding succulence typically involves high-capacitance water storage tissues, which buffer the transpiration stream and extend carbon uptake during drought. In contrast, water storage in salt-tolerant succulence is thought to be largely a by-product of massive salt accumulation in leaf vacuoles.

The Succulent Karoo, an arid zone in southwestern Namibia and South Africa, possesses the highest plant diversity of any desert biome in the world, with more than 6000 species in an area of approximately 103,000km². There are approximately 1700 species of leaf succulents, and this dominance is unique among the world’s deserts.  It is the only arid ecosystem to be recognized as a global biodiversity hotspot. Like the Karoo, all deserts are extending and getting hotter and the interrelationships of organisms with each other and their environment  are changing. For example, in the Mojave Desert 29 percent of the 135 bird species that were present 100 years ago are less common and less widespread today and a likely cause is heat stress on predators and prey associated with climate change.  Data for the Sonoran Desert in the United States has extended the length of the frost free season therein increasing climatically suitable ranges for its cold-intolerant inhabitants.

 Warming across the Southwest US over the 20th century (Sonoran Desert)

Under the scenarios postulated for Karoo’s future by the National Botanical Institute Climate Change Group, it appears that a number of key generalizations can be made with regard to future patterns of plant distribution and diversity. Firstly, the bioclimate of the Karoo shows warming and aridification trends, which are sufficient to decrease the area amenable to the country’s biomes to between 38 and 55% of their current combined area. This includes the virtual complete loss or displacement of the existing Succulent Karoo Biome along the west coast and interior coastal plain.  Water scarcity is a major factor of change. Future climate change scenarios suggest that over the next 100 years the winter-rainfall region of the Karoo, including the Succulent Karoo Biome, will experience hotter and drier conditions than those experienced in the 20th century. Once again, plants are metaphors for humans. In 2019, several Karoo towns in the Eastern Cape ran out of water. Boreholes and dams dried up, taps ran dry, reducing farms to dust and threatening the future of local communities and the extinction of small family farms.  Therefore succulents are indicators of the loss of human monetary prosperity; a consequence of global warming.  

Taking this global perspective, water scarcity is one factor driving millions of people from their homes each year.  It exacerbates other economic and social problems like conflict, corruption or a lack of jobs that contribute to the decision to leave. Many of those who do move, at least partly because of water-related pressures such as floods, droughts and pollution, may not travel far.  International migration of families is expensive and very risky. It lies beyond the reach of many of the poorest people who are most vulnerable to water security and drought. Those who suffer water-related shocks to their livelihoods, losing animals or crops, are less likely to have the funds to start again in a new country.  Conversely, people who have better access to secure, affordable water are more likely to have enough financial resources to migrate. Although much is made of international migration, most movement related to water is inside countries, often from one rural place to another. Three out of four of the world’s poor live in rural areas and rely heavily on agricultural production, with food insecurity, water contamination and drought forcing people from their homes. Efforts are being stepped up to prevent water scarcity and make it profitable for young people to stay on rural land.  One commercial response is the enclosure of farms for game-hunting as a recreational activity: displacing animals into pots! 

But if people do leave, it is not necessarily a negative phenomenon. Humans have always moved in search of a better life.  It is an important factor of social evolution. In evolution, migration enables the movement of genes from one population into another.  Migration is an important source of genetic variation that can also change gene frequencies and result in evolution. When organisms join a population and interbreed with residents, the subsequent generation will exhibit gene frequencies that differ from those in the population prior to the arrival of the migrants.  Migration will generally unify gene frequencies among populations rapidly in evolutionary time. In this connection, a windowsill collection of succulents is a knowledge hotspot linking plants and people through the evolutionary concept of migration; a reminder that migration is the movement of populations, groups or individuals, plants animals and microbes.

8  Internet References


Cause of succulents in plants

Politics of happiness

Evolution of Crassulaceae

Interaction with indoor plants

Economic impact of ornamental horticulture

Evolution of Crassulacea

Plant animal relationships

Symbolic uses of plants

Oceanic state

Jade plant

Submarine futures

 Phylosophy of the ocean

Biodiversity and prosperity

Wonderful things

Escape from reality

Get google

Create an artwork collection


Google slide virtual gallery

Tweet gallery

Art Steps




Three extinctions

Sempervivum: Rhine Gorge

Dealing with dry days

Succulents: a primer

Rosette formation

Measuring prosperity

Leisure spending growth

Recreation wellness and leisure

Art Deco Era

Art in the Anthropocene

Gardens in the Sky

Appendix 1 The Sempervivum story

Sempervivum cultivars from the Wills National UK Collection

By far  the easiest of all succulents to grow are the Sempervivums.  Their name means ”always alive’: semper = always; vivo = to live)  They are members of the family Crassulaceae and are commonly known as Houseleeks. The genus is generally considered to contain about 50 species and there are also a huge number of names applied to plants in cultivation (5000 on the list in 2008), but the nomenclature is not clearly defined. Sempervivums change colour and shape with the seasons and the weather conditions from one year to the next and most species show a wide range of variation especially under different cultivation conditions, so it is often difficult to identify an individual plant, Most of these are variants of Sempervivum tectorum that are characterised as cultivars, easily maintained with minimum watering and are readily reproduced from offsets.  Sempervivums are commonly known as Hens and Chicks. The mother plant (hen) during the growing season will give off offsets (chicks) that one can see tucked under the lower leaves or on the end of a stolon depending on the cultivar.

Charlemagne, first Holy Roman Emperor and unifier of a large part of northern Europe, issued the following decree (circa 795) to all villagers on his Crown lands “Et ille hortulanus habeat super domum suam Iovis barbam” , which is translated as; ‘and the gardener shall have Jove’s Beard growing on the roof of his house’.  Jove’s beard refers to the common houseleek, Sempervivum tectorum. This plant is native to the Alps, the Rhine Gorge and the Pyrenees. The name Jove’s beard reflects the plant’s ancient association with the Roman bearded God Jupiter. Hence names such as “Jupiter’s beard” and the German Donnerbart (“thunder beard”),  the latter a reminder that there was a cultural shift in mythology from the Roman pantheon to that of the Nordic peoples.  Although the reasoning behind Charlemagne’s decree is not known it is taken as evidence for peasant’s roof gardens being the precursors of contemporary green roofs movement. 

The earliest documented roof gardens were the hanging gardens of Semiramis in what is now Syria, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Today, similarly elaborate roof-garden projects are designed for high-profile international hotels, business centers, and private homes. These green roofs, known for their deep substrates and variety of plantings as “intensive” green roofs, have the appearance of conventional ground-level gardens, and they can augment living and recreation space in densely populated urban areas. Intensive green roofs typically require substantial investments in plant care. Furthermore, they emphasize the active use of space and carry higher aesthetic expectations than “extensive” green roofs, which generally have shallower soil and low-growing ground cover.  Sempervivums are commonly planted in extensive green roofs.

The Rock Garden Plant Trials Subcommittee of the Royal Horticultural Society inspected the a trial of Sempervivum cultivars at Wisley over a period of three years (2005-2008), assessing the entries at each season. They recommend the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) to 23 cultivars, four of which were reconfirmations of previous awards using the following criteria: attractiveness of rosettes throughout the year : impact : health : vigour : hardiness : reliability : nomenclature.

Appendix 2 Why succulents?

The word “succulent” comes from the Latin word sucus, meaning juice, or sap. Succulent plants may store water in various structures, such as leaves and stems. Some definitions also include roots, thus geophytes that survive unfavourable periods by dying back to underground storage organs may be regarded as succulents.  This puts succulents in the front line of climate change science and biodiversity management, particularly as the arid landscapes where they evolved are warming up faster than the global average.

Many plant families have multiple succulent species found within them (over 25 plant families). In some families, such as Aizoaceae, Cactaceae, and Crassulaceae, most species are succulents. The habitats of these water preserving plants are often in areas with high temperatures and low rainfall, such as deserts. Succulents have the ability to thrive on limited water sources, such as mist and dew, which makes them equipped to survive in an ecosystem which contains scarce water sources.

In horticultural use, the term “succulent” is sometimes used in a way which excludes plants that botanists would regard as succulents, such as cacti. Succulents are often grown as ornamental plants because of their striking and unusual appearance, as well as their ability to thrive with relatively minimal care.

The Crassulaceae or Stonecrop Family  worldwide, has 35 genera and 1,500 species, including 9 genera in North America. Many are cultivated as ornamentals, including: Aeonium, Cotyledon, Crassula, Dudleya, Echeveria, Kalanchoe, Sedum and Sempervivum

Crassulaceae has about 30 genera of perennial herbs or low shrubs, in the order Saxifragales, native to warm, dry regions of the world. Many species are grown as pot plants or cultivated in rock gardens and borders. They have thick leaves and red, yellow, or white flower clusters. Sedum (stonecrop), Sempervivum (houseleek), Kalanchoë, Monanthes, Umbilicus (pennywort), Bryophyllum, Echeveria, Crassula, and Cotyledon are well-known members of the family. The family includes approximately 1400 species and 34 or 35 genera, although the number of genera is disputed and depends strongly on the circumscription of Sedum (stonecrop).

Aeonium, the tree houseleek, is a genus of about 35 species of succulent, subtropical plants of the family Crassulaceae. Many species are popular in horticulture. The genus name comes from the ancient Greek “aionos” (ageless).  While most of them are native to the Canary Islands ) a hotspot of biodiversity) some are found in Madeira, Morocco, and in East Africa (for example in the Semien Mountains of Ethiopia.

This windowsill collection of succulents is a knowledge hotspot linking plants and people