What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Living in the dense, damp, obscenely green Shangri-La of our sheltering mini-rainforest, it’s hard to imagine that all is not right with the world.  However, all too often these days I read articles like this one, describing how we humans are creating conditions that will lead to a future crisis, probably within our own lifetimes, or at least those of our children, sending humanity the way of the dinosaurs in the worst case scenario, or into some chaotic end-of-the-world bad science fiction movie scenario in the best case.

The polar caps and glaciers are melting. The last time I flew over Greenland, most of the land was brown instead of white as it used to be, so I’ve seen the evidence with my own eyes. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reportedly reached the highest level since humans have been on this planet, based on what current science can estimate from the historical record. The article I read this morning predicted that there will eventually be a massive collapse of our food supply due to drought, crop disease, and other factors.

These predictions are not bad science fiction, they are evidence-based and credible. Food is pretty low on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, so a struggle to obtain food would presumably eliminate most higher-level activities, including perfume-making. On second thought, maybe perfume would become more important, in order to mask the unpleasant odors of life in a chaotic society. Spices could once again be an important currency, with wars fought over them. Highly spiced food is more satisfying than bland food, so people could learn to eat less and not miss the vast amounts of tasteless, mass-produced calories that are currently consumed in the US.

Unfortunately, spices and natural perfume materials depend on the same agricultural conditions as food crops, so the factors that lead to disruption of food production would simultaneously lead to disruption of fragrance material production. In fact that is happening now. Sandalwood, rosewood, and agarwood are just about gone. They’re being farmed to some extent, but it’s a slow process, and one that could not be sustained in the face of major alterations in the world’s climate.

I don’t know what the solution to the problem is, and I’m not even sure there is one at this point other than to let nature take its course and restore homeostasis to the earth through means that will be, at the very least, unpleasant to humans. What each of us can do, in our own small way, is to think before engaging in unnecessary use of resources and the accompanying depletion and/or pollution of the environment.

The most egregious example I’ve seen recently was a mother in our neighborhood who parked her hulk of an SUV by the school bus stop, motor running, waited for her child to arrive, and drove him less than 200 meters to their house. I stopped my run to watch the unfolding of this real-life scene that would have been unbelievable if presented as a comedy skit. If people would stop engaging in this sort of absurdly lazy behavior, it would at least be a start in the right direction. 

[Photos of Texas dust storm and dead corn adapted from Wikimedia]


  1. The linked article is very scary. We may have already reached the point of no return. If that is the case I suppose all we can do is go with the flow no matter how unpleasant that may be. It seems we really don't have a choice at this point but we can still grow our own foods, tend our gardens (or tap our maple trees) with care and try to be responsible stewards of what we have left.

    That being said, the mommy in the SUV probably pays a monthly fee to work out in a gym and a small fortune to fill her gas tank (and yet can't manage to walk to the bus stop?)! That certainly was a very telling example of contemporary priorities and the waste of all kinds of resources.

  2. Gail, it is indeed scary, but no one seems to want to pay attention. If it's too late, everyone can go down idling in their SUVs, but I'd like to think that we could all work together to do something to mitigate the process. I love your comment about the mommy paying for a gym membership. She probably drives her SUV there to work out in an air-conditioned environment, on machines that run on electricity.

  3. Very scary article! I'd realized for a long time that pathogens that harm humans can get around the globe in less than 2 weeks, but I hadn't made the connection with plant viruses and bacteria. Of course, it's the same deal- globalization has some very scary downsides. And that mom's dumb decision- not a big deal if it's just her, but multiply it by billions every day, and that's a serious problem indeed.

    1. Marla, It is scary how quickly pathogens and invasive species of all sorts can make it around the globe. You make a good point that the dumb mom in the SUV by herself is not enough to create a problem, but when you multiply it by millions, it becomes a huge problem. This is the typical rationalization for stupid and/or destructive behavior - one act by itself is not enough to cause harm, and therefore is OK.