What Reporting Looks Like at the End of the World

This summer has seen another spate of deadly wildfires, from Oregon to Sweden to Greece. The Greek fires encapsulated a popular beach resort killing scores of trapped tourists and pensioners on holiday. Many were forced into the sea in order to escape the inferno and smoke. Some drowned. And all over the world floods have devastated regions. At least 200 perished in Japan and dozens have drowned in Southeast Asia in “unprecedented” floods. Heatwaves, too, have killed many. At least seventy people died here in Canada from extreme heat related ailments. But fires, floods, storms and heatwaves often become the spectacles that distract us from the unfolding catastrophe that underpins it all. And in an age of looming disaster this outright obfuscation is nothing less than criminal.

The corporate media has failed abysmally at preparing the public for a climate changed world, let alone reporting on it. According to a Media Matters survey: “Throughout the recent record-breaking heat wave that affected millions across the United States, major broadcast TV networks overwhelmingly failed to report on the links between climate change and extreme heat. Over a two-week period from late June to early July, ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 127 segments or weathercasts that discussed the heat wave, but only one segment, on CBS This Morning, mentioned climate change.”

The effect can be seen in a recent Gallup poll where Americans cited 36 problems that affect them. The dangers of a rapidly warming climate were not among them. It appears fossil fuel think tanks and other extraction and animal agricultural industries, in the mendacious tradition of the tobacco industry, have not only succeeded in influencing politicians and muzzling the corporate press, they have effectively removed one of the greatest threats to humanity from the consciousness of the general public.

As long as these crises are seen as disconnected or isolated we will continue to sleepwalk into our own sticky fate. This summer drought and extreme heat in North America, Russia and Europe have devastated agriculture. Temperatures above the Arctic circle have exceeded 30°C (86°F) encouraging the massive release of intense, atmospheric warming methane, a climatic time bomb frozen beneath rapidly warming seas. These are the portents of a collective global catastrophe.

Modern civilization depends on a lot of things, but some have gone under the radar, at least in the West. Reliable sources of food is one of those things and many don’t think about it very often. Yet society, let alone a democratic one, cannot survive without it. Food shortages and price hikes often accompany political and social unrest as well as health crises. The environmental activist and writer Robert Hunziker wrote recently in Counterpunch about the looming catastrophe of agricultural “burn off” and its relation to the breakdown of democratic societies. “As for a reality check, climate change is already forcing eco migration in parts of Asia and throughout the eastern/southern Mediterranean region,” he wrote. “It’s already started fueling fascism.”

It may be cynical or even conspiratorial thinking to suggest that the corporate media is obscuring our collective predicament on purpose. But a media that parrots lies of the establishment elite, ones that get us into war or fail to hold political leaders, corporations or the military to account, must at least be looked at with healthy skepticism and caution. Right now it seems it is more tantalizing to report endlessly on the tweets of an orange tinted buffoon in the Oval Office, or a woman named Stormy, or Putin’s soccer ball, or Russiagate, or what channel the First Lady watches rather than something that can wipe out all life on the planet.

Indeed, the corporate press has long served as a mouthpiece for the ruling moneyed class; and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find out that they see no benefit in reporting about our rapidly changing climate, biosphere collapse or agricultural failure. It simply doesn’t serve their interests or bottom line. But we’d be foolish to think they don’t see what is happening and care. They do, just not about us. Douglas Rushkoff recent piece in the The Guardian: “How tech’s Richest Plan to Save Themselves after the Apocalypse” should put any doubts about that to rest.

We cannot know if this summer’s record breaking heatwave in the Arctic will fire the infamous methane clathrate gun, or if global famine is on the horizon, or if fascism and war will be the result. But one thing is certain. It will be up to us to find out what is happening, because none of it will be reported by Fox News, CNN or MSNBC.

Kenn Orphan, July 2018

Whose War Is This Anyway?

So here’s a rant. Trump is a vile creature for many reasons (misogyny, hatred of Muslims, xenophobia, racism), and that much is a given. But as someone who is truly leftist I am forced to wonder of my liberal friends how meeting with Putin or the alleged hacking is suddenly treasonous. Apparently the US toppling or interfering in democratically elected governments in (see: way too enormous list of nations the US has toppled in 10 decades alone!) is somehow far less of a threat to global democracy.
And no. It should be obvious I am no fan of Putin the oligarch. But it is pretty common knowledge that the US is an oligarchy, has been for a long time actually. And the “intelligence community,” the same one that surveils Americans and the world, or that killed Fred Hampton, or threatened MLK, or masterminded COINTELPRO, and funded death squads in Central America, do you really want these “institutions” as your allies? And where was everyone when he (or Bush or Obama) met with the Saudi monarch? They literally behead people for being gay or for witchcraft. Or Netanyahu? He is literally a modern day Pieter Willem Botha, presiding over a classically defined, 21st century apartheid state?
But it’s the treason hashtag thing that really gets me. Really. How great or noble can a nation be if ripping children away from their mothers, like in the book (or movie) “Sophie’s Choice,” but repeated over and over and over again, and caging those children and force feeding them psychotropics is somehow considered not treasonous? How about Trump’s threatening of Venezuela with invasion? or bombing Syria? or aiding the genocide in Yemen? or putting a US embassy on occupied land (something recognized by international law) in Jerusalem? Of course none of this is considered treasonous in an empire, and the most violent and powerful in all of human history, by the way.

So the question is, whose war is this? Is it for the powerless or is it really just the powerful against the powerful yet again? I think it is the latter.

So when you go after Trump and ALL of the elitist power class, for the right reasons: for the crimes against humanity (all humanity, not just the telegenic, whiter appearing ones), or crimes being waged against the living earth, or the seemingly never ending nuclear menace, or against capitalism (because really, capitalism is dividing and killing us as a species and countless others), or war and militarism in general, or economic terrorism (essentially capitalism); call me. I’ll join you enthusiastically. Until then, count me out of another McResistance™ to maintain the moribund and ecocidal status quo.

 

Kenn Orphan, July 2018

Atrocity and the Contortions of the Faithful

Lately I’ve tried to get my head around those Americans who profess to be Christians supporting the policy of separation of migrant children from their parents at the border. Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee-Sanders even used Biblical references to defend it. And yet these same people are giddy about the recent Supreme Court decision regarding faith-based pregnancy centers. Apparently only documented, unborn children count?

 

Of course these people emerge endlessly throughout history with apologist contortions for their faith and in every society. In the US they are the same ones who used religion to justify or even advance Native American genocide, slavery, witch trials, Jim Crow, lynchings and Japanese internment. They had no problem bombing children of colour in Iraq or Afghanistan to “liberate” the Muslims who would later be demonized and banned in US immigration policy. No problem when our “allies” do it now in Gaza or Yemen. They didn’t bat an eye when the US carpet bombed Laos or Cambodia, or doused Vietnamese children with napalm or Agent Orange because that was a “noble war” to defeat “godless communism.”

They give no thought into the egregious effects of US foreign policy that have migrants fleeing north in the first place. The support of violent regimes like that in Honduras, ushered into power via a US supported coup, or the “drug war” that has fueled hideous cruelty in El Salvador, or environmental and economic injustice via defense of mining companies or Big Oil.

These adherents of the Christian faith bear no resemblance to those of the Abolitionist Movement, or later in Liberation Theology, or the countless clergy who struggled (and died) alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other people of colour in the Civil Rights Movement or marched against the Vietnam War. They lack the integrity and courage of people like Father Daniel Berrigan or Sister Megan Rice or Jim Wallis, because they have wedded themselves to nationalism, xenophobia and militaristic hubris.

And so the mental gymnastics and empathic anemia needed to defend such gross contradictions in faith must at the very least be exhausting, but I think it ultimately takes a costly toll. A faith that can be twisted to defend atrocity and barbarity against the “foreigner,”  the “alien,” the “outcast,” or “other,” can be easily twisted against you in the end. And the odds are you will be so blinded by social hatred that you won’t even see it coming.

 

Kenn Orphan  June 2018

Humanity vs. The Rule of Law

It was back in my early undergrad years when I first came to understand the broad reach of US foreign policy. I completed a social work internship in Los Angeles at a safe house in east LA in a largely immigrant community whose goal was economic justice and solidarity with working families. One morning I came down to the kitchen to find two sisters from the Missionaries of Charity sitting at the table with our house administrators. They had a similar home just down the street from us and they were well known for opening it up as a sanctuary for refugees. That day they greeted us with a choice.

A family of refugees from Central America were en route to LA and needed housing since the sisters home was already filled to capacity. Our house admins had already agreed to do this but we would be permitted to go to another program, without judgement, if we were not comfortable with this decision. This was the late 80s and providing sanctuary for people from certain nations in Central America was both controversial and illegal. We were nervous, but young and very eager to do something that seemed radical. Over the following month we learned that the risk we had taken paled in comparison to theirs. Nothing could remotely compare with the horrors they had endured or narrowly escaped; threats of rape, violence and being abandoned to die in agony in the desert, or the uncertain future they faced in a country hostile to their very existence.

I remember the backlash I and others received from several in my class. In their eyes we were subverting the rule of law. But what rule of law were they speaking of? Was it the one that informs virtually all of American foreign policy? The one that trains mercenaries at infamous places like the School of the Americas? The same one that fueled the genocide of 250,000 Mayans in Guatemala in 1954 at the behest of the United Fruit Company? Or the rule of law that created a brothel for US corporate interests in Havana? Or backed the genocide in Indonesia done by rabid fascists? Or supported coups that upended a democratically elected government in Chile? Or the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Or Iran? Was it the one that carpet bombed Cambodia, napalmed North Korea or tested nukes on US soldiers and the unsuspecting inhabitants of the Marshall Islands? Would that rule of law include Indian Removal? Or Jim Crow? Or state sponsored lynchings? Or internment camps for Japanese Americans during WW2? When it comes to the American Empire what rule of law is there outside of that which pertains to the rights of corporations, or the ruling Capitalist class, or the military industrial elite? How many crimes has the global north committed against the global south; and how many of them have been explained away using the sanctimonious parlance of the rule of law?

I fast forward to today and wonder what has changed? US foreign policy certainly hasn’t. It continues to punish Cuba and has not stopped its war mongering against Venezuela. It still promotes the racist “drug war” that makes life a misery for countless people. It still defends industries that pollute the waters and the soil that indigenous peoples depend on, like in the Amazon in Ecuador by Chevron. It still backs rightwing coups like the one recently championed by Hillary Clinton in Honduras which installed a government that terrorizes its population and is ultimately responsible for the murder of scores of Indigenous and environmental activists, like Berta Cáceres who understood well the reach, ramifications and scope of American foreign policy, especially its impact on the lives of those who live on the margins of empire.

And what has changed at the border? The same people terrorized by American foreign policy are still dehumanized, traumatized, deported and even murdered in cold blood when they manage to arrive there hoping for a better life. Even Hillary Clinton advocated for sending undocumented people back as a solution, and Obama is on record for deporting more immigrants than other presidents. But if there is anything that has changed in recent days it is the deepening depravity of such policies. Thanks to Trump’s inhuman policy of separation of children from their parents, the breathless cruelty of the US Border Patrol and ICE produce a virtual Sophie’s Choice every day. Even showing human kindness toward these children is grounds for termination from employment.

So the outrage I have today is not dissimilar to the outrage I felt years ago.  I still see the faces of those refugees I stood in solidarity with several years ago from Guatemala. And when I read about the migrants being detained and sent to cages with foil blankets or hear the recordings of inconsolable cries of children torn from their mother or father, I see their eyes peering through me. And I think of that “rule of law” argument waged by my classmates years ago. The same argument made by Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee-Sanders who then buttressed it with Biblical references. Such a rationale only exists in the minds of those whose humanity has long been gutted. It’s one that has been used generously by scoundrels throughout time to ignore their complicity in creating the turmoil in the first place, and then defending the cruelest of policies against the human beings affected by that misery. And my response to such barbarity remains the same as it was back then: to hell with their rule of law.

 

Kenn Orphan   June 2018

 

 

Roseanne and the Art of the Con

The recent Twitter storm involving Roseanne Barr’s latest racist tweet is nothing new from the actress. In fact, for those paying attention it seems rather strange that she was called out on this now. After all, ever since she abandoned the left (she ran for POTUS for the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party) she quickly allied herself with some of the most reactionary and racist elements of the so-called “alt-right.”

She has called people Nazis for supporting Palestinian human rights, tweeted blatantly racist tirades, memes and bizarre conspiracy theories all of which have largely been ignored by a corporate media ever in search of profits. But what’s perhaps more interesting is how Roseanne herself is framed by this same media. Thanks to her sitcom portrayal of a blue collar, working class woman in Middle America, she is almost always cast in this light.

Of course the notion that Roseanne Barr represents the working class has always been problematic. While her sitcom had its merits and attempted to humanize a segment of society egregiously ignored or maliciously ridiculed by coastal elites, it predictably failed in addressing the systemic sources of misery for her working class family. Yes, it was just a comedy; but historically such mediums have often proven to be a powerful voice for transformative politics. The Roseanne show failed to measure up to even All in the Family standards in this regard.

And since this is the US where glaring contradictions are seldom addressed, it is worth noting that in real life the actress has an enormous macadamia nut farm in Hawaii, lucrative book deals, gets millions of dollars in royalties from reruns of the original Roseanne show, and her net worth is estimated at 80 million dollars. It shouldn’t be any wonder, then, that a billionaire conman like Donald Trump is one of her biggest fans. He became President by pulling off the con that he is blue collar and promised to “drain the swamp,” even while he fills it in plain view with snake oil salesmen and women like himself. Both of them have so far been able to brand themselves as something they are clearly not.

The Canadian author Ronald Wright said: “socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” His assessment might lay too much blame on working people in the US, but there is a painful truth to this. Too many Americans have been bamboozled by the corporate capitalist con game. They continue to be enthralled by the gilded towers of the wealth owning class and still think it is justified, even as they languish under crushing debt, poor or no healthcare, nonliving or stagnant wages and scarce economic opportunities. Many see the excess and bling of the rich as a just reward for hard work, failing to take into account the power of class and privilege, or the institutional injustices that cause the gap between the ultra-rich and desperately poor to grow exponentially year after year.

While Roseanne Barr’s wealth may not have been handed to her through an inheritance like Trump, her ascendancy in the American wealth class is indicative of how certain qualities are rewarded. Roseanne has been a master at maintaining her brand through endless, manufactured outrage, extremes and media manipulation. One year she joins the Occupy Movement, the next she is tweeting Islamophobic memes. You can call it a kind of lunacy, but it appears to be a profitable one.

It remains to be seen whether some of those who have swallowed the lies will begin to see that like Trump, Roseanne is not one of them. Despite her humble beginnings or the elaborate persona which mimics working class angst, she is a con. She is a product of American capital and the corporate media, through and through. And despite this recent setback, she will still be laughing all the way to the banks she once claimed she hates.

 

Kenn Orphan, May 2018

Life, the Sea, and Big Oil

“It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist: the threat is rather to life itself.” – Rachel Carson

When I learned about the oil giant BP’s plan to drill off the coast of my home, my heart felt like it dropped out of my chest. As I write this the West Aquarius rig is well on its way to the Nova Scotian Shelf. By the time this is published, it might have already arrived. My thoughts went immediately to those oil sullied shorelines in the Gulf of Mexico, and to the fishermen there whose families and livelihoods were shattered to pieces, and the countless species of fish, mammals and marine birds suffocated in the earth’s primordial blood. BP forever damaged that region and not only in an environmental way. The scars, the untraceable diseases, the suicides and domestic conflicts induced by despair, the financial ruin, displacement and alienation persist to this day.

Many of my ancestors were fishermen here in Nova Scotia for generations. They negotiated the treacherous storms endemic to the North Atlantic and many of them perished in the icy waters which surround this rocky, unforgiving peninsula. I’ve several relatives whose livelihoods are still dependent upon the ocean. But it is more than just a job. The sea is entwined with one’s heart here. It informs the culture, the food, the language. The life of this province cannot be separated from it.

Until settlers stole their ancestral lands, Mi’kmaq, the region’s First People, lived in balance and harmony with this sea for thousands of years, carefully studying its character and respecting its surly and churlish mood swings. They still ply the currents of the deep cold inlets and hidden coves.Nova Scotia’s rugged and breathtaking coastline, often blanketed in fog and punctuated by ancient, craggy pines, has been sang about at cèilidhs (Celtic social gatherings) for centuries. The provincial license plates proudly bares the logo “Canada’s Ocean Playground.” Indeed, the ocean remains one of the chief economic engines of the region generating billions of dollars annually. Above all of this is the biodiversity this place is graced with. But none of this, no wealth of culture, nor livelihoods, or biodiversity, or even physical beauty is of concern when a region catches the covetous eye of Big Oil.

In the case of Nova Scotia, a sparsely populated province with an abundance of fossil fuel resources, BP saw an opportunity. And a neoliberal government beholden to the interests of Big Oil paved the way for exploitation. The drilling will be in over stormy waters that are 3000 metres deep (roughly 10,000 feet) and is in one of the primary spawning areas for fish like haddock. To add insult to this great injury: if there is a blow out the primary strategy for dealing with it will be the infamous toxic dispersant corexit, used in the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. And it would take at least two weeks for the company to transport a “capping stack” from Norway under normal circumstances, not taking into account the strong currents and wild storms of the North Atlantic. If and when such a cap arrived there is absolutely no guarantee that such an intervention would even be workable in these deep and rough waters. After all, nothing like this has ever been attempted here. Nothing.In a world where the fossil fuel industry inhabits the precincts of policy making and regulation, no place is off the table for exploration and exploitation. And history has proven that Big Oil enjoys near impunity for its crimes. In the Niger Delta, one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, Royal Dutch Shell has spilled an estimated 1.5 million tons of oil into the rich ecosystem while simultaneously assisting the Nigerian military in the violent suppression of protest from the indigenous communities of the Ogoni. In the Ecuadoran Amazon, Chevron Texaco deliberately fouled huge swaths of the rain forest with at least 17 million gallons of oil and waste, and poisoned scores of indigenous communities with carcinogenic toxins. In the Alberta Tar Sands the fossil fuel industry has left a scar that is literally visible from space. There is no place on the planet that Big Oil will not sacrifice or future it will not jeopardize for money. No society or ecosystem will be spared its plunder for profit, large or small.

The fossil fuel industry is the most profitable business the world has ever known and today it is accountable to virtually no one. Its executives sit atop a virtual Lazy Susan which glides them seamlessly and effortlessly from boardrooms to the halls of legislature and back. It fuels conflicts, spurs wars, and funds massively coordinated and aggressive campaigns of disinformation against climate change scientists and those who dissent. And in the end we are all being held hostage to its existential madness. It is the greatest tyranny humanity has ever known, to be deprived of a living earth for the avarice and shortsighted sake of a privileged few.

I have no happy ending to this story as it is written today. After countless “spills, incidents, and accidents” Nova Scotia may become just one more open wound this industry has inflicted on the living flesh of the earth. They will extract what they can and when they pollute they will do so with impunity. The Mi’kmaq and rural, working people will suffer the worst, as will countless species of marine birds, fish and mammals. Even in the absence of any particular “incident” with the West Aquarius rig, our fragile biosphere will lunge even further toward mass extinction thanks to the cumulative impact of industry’s rapacious extraction and reckless pollution. It will mean death by a thousand cuts. Or in this case, perhaps, a thousand climate change fueled catastrophes. The sea, as Rachel Carson said, will continue. Life, on the other hand, may not.Nova Scotians will take on BP and Shell and Chevron, and every manifestation of this future killing behemoth, building on the strength and courage of everyone else who has been mercilessly punished by this industry’s greed driven recklessness. Sadly, that list is growing longer by the day.

Kenn Orphan, May 2018

 

 

Solidarity on the Eve of the Nakba

Make no mistake, the spectacle that took place in Jerusalem today was repugnant. In a nod to Trump’s conservative evangelical Christian base, rightwing lobbies and think tanks, and wealthy donors like Sheldon Adelson, and with the support of prominent Democrats like Chuck Schumer, the US Embassy was finally moved to this city in defiance of both Palestinian civil society and international law. But as diplomatically destructive as this action was, it was what happened in Gaza that constitutes a crime against humanity. At least 52 unarmed civilians were massacred by Israeli forces for protesting the ethnic cleansing decades ago that has led to their imprisonment and collective punishment today in what amounts to the world’s largest open air prison.
Today is the eve of the Nakba, or the Catastrophe, where thousands of Arabs were massacred in their villages by Zionist militias and at least 750,000 were expelled from their ancestral lands in years leading up to 1948. It should not be seen as a mistake then that this was the date that was chosen. History has demonstrated that the oppressor uses demoralization as a weapon in much the same way as torture and outright massacres. So there juxtaposed to this great crime of the elite celebrating a glitzy new US embassy on occupied, stolen land, the Gaza Health Ministry declared it is on the brink of collapse due to a slaughter not seen since the carpet bombing of Gaza in 2014.
The UN said months ago that the enclave of millions of people, half of which are children, will become uninhabitable by 2020 thanks to the crippling blockade that has devastated water resources, restricted food and other services, and has driven thousands to the brink of suicide from despair.  All this does not even reflect the ongoing decades long occupation and ethnic cleansing of the West Bank where millions of Palestinians, many of whom are children, are subjected to military rule and tribunals, night raids, house demolitions, daily humiliation, settler violence and systematic displacement.
And where is the media? In most cases they are playing their part in advancing official narratives which serve to dehumanize the colonized and the oppressed. The dehumanization of Palestinians is one of the worst abuses I’ve seen in my lifetime. But it serves a purpose. To dehumanize anyone is worse than rendering them invisible because it justifies every act perpetrated against them or their communities. The theft of their land, their history, and their dignity, collective punishment, random raids, torture and imprisonment. All of it can be rationalized once someone is stripped of their humanity. And this almost always leads to expulsion or genocide.
And where is the international community? Throughout history people of conscience realized they could never count on the leadership of the so-called “international community” to take a stand against inhumanity and genocide. While millions of Jews, communists, Roma, the disabled and gay people were being gassed by the Nazis they were silent. When South Africa was brutally enforcing racist apartheid they were making deals with the ruling regime. But people of conscience always stood apart because retaining what is left of our humanity demands nothing less than standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the oppressed and persecuted. And this is a truth which applies to any era we might inhabit.
Kenn Orphan, 14th May, 2018

Remembering Olivia Arévalo

Olivia Arévalo, the Shipibo-Conibo elder, traditional healer and protector of our precious biosphere, was assassinated two days ago in her home in the Peruvian Amazon after she had endured years of harassment and death threats. It is a sad footnote for this Earth Day, but an important reminder.
 
All around the planet Indigenous people are subjected to persecution, pollution and ethnic cleansing. They face violent repression and assaults from mercenaries and death squads in the interests of international corporations, the mining and fossil fuel industries and authoritarian governments. They are at the forefront of the war to protect the Earth.
 
May Olivia rest in peace, and may her spirit surround us for the looming battles and catastrophes ahead for humanity and the planet.

Kenn Orphan 22 April, 2018

*Title art piece of Olivia is by Luis Tamani

Whistling Past the Graveyard

I must begin with a confession. I have always been troubled by Earth Day. As a lifelong activist I understand and appreciate the concept and how it came to be. But over the years I’ve seen it morph from an almost spiritual movement for ecological consciousness and justice into an opportunity for corporations and politicians to tout their empty gestures at “saving the planet” all while they mercilessly plunder it.  Greenwashing has now taken center stage and the effect has often lead to the neutralizing of public outrage. Like so many things corporate, Earth Day has been tinged with a pathological optimism. The dominant message today exudes an all too pervasive “feel goodism” for a situation that is by all accounts truly monstrous, not only for countless other species on the planet, but for our own.

Nearly fifty years ago in April of 1970 people of conscience gathered to address the destruction of the planet. Since that time politicians, corporations, the fossil fuel industry and their mouthpiece think tanks have worked feverishly, not at addressing the crisis, but at polishing their image.  Today their lavish conferences and consortiums generally serve as window dressing and are a distraction to our collective, growing existential angst, as each passing year gives us a terrifying glimpse into a fast approaching future for our planet, one rife with super storms, floods, mega-droughts, crop failures and species demise.

Within the last decade alone there have been monumental shifts in climate models leaving even the conservative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shocked and bewildered. Indeed, record breaking temperature extremes have become a defining norm of the 21st century, with an ice free Arctic summer now on the horizon. It is becoming apparent that things are more dire than anyone had previously anticipated. We are beginning to see the first stirrings of climate chaos; and it is set against the ominous backdrop of an already ravaged biosphere.

This past year we witnessed an American west coast at once bathed in fire and then awash in mud. We saw the Amazon rain forest, the vaunted “lungs of the planet,” belch out smoke as it reeled from over 200,000 fires. We stood aghast at the hurricanes which decimated the Caribbean and the floods that killed thousands and displaced many more over the summer and into autumn and winter, from China to India and Nepal, to Southeast Asia and West Africa.

Other revelations were equally staggering. Recent studies have confirmed a catastrophic drop in insect populations worldwide. Bird populations are being decimated by loss of food sources, and marine plastic pollution is set to outweigh all fish in the ocean by mid-century. Fish stocks have plummeted and over 90% of Coral reefs, the ocean’s nurseries, will have disappeared by 2050 from bleaching thanks to warming waters and ocean acidification. Forests are being felled at a rate akin to a New Zealand sized areaevery year. Yet despite these staggering developments little to nothing of substance is being done on the global scale that is required.
To be sure, history has demonstrated that most politicians will never face unpleasant realities until they are literally upon us. Our current climate and ecological crisis is no different. As this century unfolds cities and towns will likely be lost to rising seas as governments eventually find that they are too expensive to salvage. Entire regions may become uninhabitable from deforestation, pollution and drought. The specters of famine and disease will undoubtedly haunt billions of people, in fact they already plague millions today. Mass migration could easily make today’s issue appear negligible and would put a strain on fragile social and economic systems that already suffer from vast, structurally imposed inequities. Rich, biodiverse areas could become graveyards. Those in power would undoubtedly answer the concomitant unrest in more Orwellian doublespeak and with insidious distraction, coupled with draconian crackdowns on dissent, protest or objection. None of this is fiction. It has all happened, and not only in civilizations throughout history which have faced socio-economic or ecological collapse. It is happening today in societies which purport to be democratic.

 

 

Here is where people of conscience, like those untarnished souls at the first Earth Day nearly fifty years ago, must be unabashedly truthful about our monstrous and collective predicament. We must face the painful fact that our species has exceeded its limits in growth, population and the exploitation of the natural world. We must also grapple with the fact that the global north is most responsible for the decimation of the biosphere and the ruthless subjugation and exploitation of the global south.

And that there will be no substantive actions taken by our political and corporate leaders to halt this plunder or stem the carnage of the planet’s rich biodiversity. After all, according to their economic ethos they have no vested interest since they profit handsomely from this global arrangement to begin with. They have demonstrated that they are both unwilling and incapable of addressing the issue with the integrity and impetus necessary. Instead, they will continue their bait and switch dance of empty placation and denialism while they stuff their coffers with coin, even as the earth rapidly transforms into another planet before our eyes.

Despite all this we still have tremendous agency to affect the future, both personally and collectively. We have the power to create communities of solidarity and to meet the looming catastrophes and calamities with dignity and humanity. We possess the moral authority to oppose the further defilement of the water and the soil, the very source and sustenance of our lives and that of countless other species. But that agency is diluted and made ineffectual so long as we continue to lie to ourselves and others about where we are as a species.

Earth Day should no longer be taken simply as a gentle, yet trite, reminder to recycle, or use canvas shopping bags, or cycle to work one day out of the week. It should no longer be diminished to “lifestyle choices” that let corporations and governments off the hook. It must quite literally be transformed into a rallying cry for the life of the biosphere. Because anything short of that is merely whistling past the graveyard.

 

Kenn Orphan,  April 2018

Let’s Stop Pretending

Let’s stop pretending that the war on Syria just began. The US along with Canada, the EU, the UK, the Saudis, Israel, Russia, and Iran, have been arming factions and reducing the region to smithereens for years, carpet bombing cities and killing scores of civilians in the process.

Let’s stop pretending that the US and its allies have any problem with dictators, death squads or authoritarian regimes since they have propped them up, applauded them, and aided them from Egypt to Honduras to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And they have no problem with carnage if it happens to come from one of their client states, like the Saudi kingdom’s genocide in Yemen or Israel’s slaughter in Gaza.

Let’s stop pretending that any of the global players are troubled by or concerned about war crimes. In the West the selective outrage over the horrific gas attack on civilians in Syria is absurdly obvious when it comes to the fact that the US and its allies have used depleted uranium, napalm and white phosphorus and bombed hospitals and mosques, wedding parties and shelters as a matter of course.
Let’s stop pretending that any of them care about Syrians or Syrian society either. While Russia has turned a blind eye to Assad’s crimes and bolstered his regime’s power to crush any meaningful dissent, the US, UK and EU have funded extremists, foreign mercenaries and reactionary militants who have terrorized local populations almost as much as the regime itself. They’ve also made it near impossible for refugees and others trying to flee the misery and chaos they have helped to create.

Let’s stop pretending that any of this is about human rights or the rule of law, or that this will bring about an end to barbarism since the cold hard fact is that stocks are surging for Lockheed Martin, Grumman Northrup and Boeing. This is indeed a global, capitalist arrangement that ultimately benefits the coffers of the wealthy. Endless war, chaos, terrorism and state violence are, to put it bluntly, a boon.

The escalation this time may signify a new level of madness. Thanks to unhinged psychopaths like John Bolton who is back in a position of power, and the generals of the military industrial complex, we are being led down a path that could easily begin a world war with other nuclear armed powers. We’ve been down this road recently with North Korea, so we should not downplay that grim fact because it really could quite literally spell out the final chapter for civilization at any given moment.

So should we be angered? Yes. Surprised? No. While the powerful have never once tried to hide their crimes from us, they would prefer that we forget them. They would like us to pretend that their hypocrisy and selective outrage makes perfect sense. So the choice is really quite simple. We can either continue playing along in this bloody theatre of the absurd or stop being played for fools once and for all.

Kenn Orphan, 14 April, 2018