Monthly Archives: October 2014

Bearing Witness

“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.” – Carl Sagan

We are all witnesses to the Great Dying, a sixth mass extinction, the last one being 65 million years ago which wiped out the dinosaurs. This is not hyperbole; it is a defining feature of our age.

Jonathon Blair - Copy

Countless species are falling prey to the wealthy’s indifference, militarism and folly everyday. As in ancient civilizations, the wealthy and the privileged are generally the last to feel the pain of collapse, yet are most often the root cause. And compared to the mass of humanity we share this planet with, and as a result of rapacious exploitation and plunder, Americans, and westerners in general, are the wealthy and the privileged of modern civilization.

Great Hammerhead in Bimini Bahamas  Photo by Laura Rock

Despite overwhelming evidence of crashing ecosystems, many of us living in the twilight years of the American empire seem oblivious to the canaries in the coal mine. Every human being who has ever lived, lived here, on this little, saltwater drenched rock suspended in the endless, cold ocean of space. Yet so often one can feel as if they were alone, wandering among zombies and phantoms, unaware of or uninterested in grappling with what lies ahead of us. The magicians and merchants of corporate consumerism foster this disconnection gleefully, and create a labyrinth of distractions and doubts that add to the self-delusion.

I Shop Therefore I Am

Insipid optimism is the demand of our corporate kingdom. Eternal youth, popularity, and economic fortune, are to be believed not only possible, but necessary for fulfillment and social connection. This is not an optimism that enjoins the soul to more wondrous places, or that stirs a connection to the nature we are all born of. This is the kind of optimism that unhinges you from reality; and that chaffs the skin of your soul. It is like a chisel set against your skull. It is the kind of optimism that condescendingly tells us that “everything is going to be okay.” Even if this were somehow true, everything is NOT okay for millions of people and countless species around the planet right now.  And not acknowledging that underscores the inherent callousness in this way of thinking. It masquerades as hope; but it is merely cruelty obscured by a deceptive, mocking jingle.

In our society we are temporarily appeased by objects created for one use. In fact many wars of our age are fought for just this purpose. The plastic items that are choking our oceans were born in the darkness of oil wells and tar sands, drilled and scraped clean for the ease of a fleeting moment, and tossed away to become forgotten, yet enduring pollution. The shaming evidence is scuttled away in the darkness of the early morning, so that our day, our very important day, is not inconvenienced by the unending moan of the nature we crush under busy, productive feet.

Plastic debris that has washed up along the shore of the Azores. Photo courtesy of 5 Gyres.

Plastic debris that has washed up along the shore of the Azores. Photo courtesy of 5 Gyres.

The petro-dollar has made our penchant for convenience and self-delusion incredibly efficient. It has spawned the neoliberal economics that repress hundreds of millions of people and that is now driving us all toward extinction. And we have been conditioned to see this all as merely “the way of progress,” and to malign and ridicule those whose hearts see such sights and mourn the enormous weight of history, the staggering lack of empathy and the gaping dearth of a viable future for a species callously divorced from its soul.

We have been meticulously trained to separate life itself into worthiness categories, in fact, to be seen only as useful if it serves our copious desire for more. We house millions of sentient beings in concentration camps, bereft of comfort or even the ability to turn around, often brutally beaten and mutilated, stripped of the dignity any creature has a birthright to, all to sate our unending appetite for flesh.

cows at a factory farm

We avert our eyes to the plastic bags clinging to the branches of decrepit trees, or the bottle caps that outnumber seashells on the shore, or the birthday balloons floating atop the waves at the beach, even while knowing their destination will in all likelihood be the stomach of some hapless sea turtle. After all, paying attention might cause us to question. It might cause us to change. It might reignite the sacred reverence our ancestors knew. It might cause us to face the demons of our cupidity and the resulting devastation and suffering they cause.

A seabird with a stomach full of plastic waste  Photographer Chris Jordan (photo: Chris Jordan)

We can remain in denial about the ecocide we are all witness to, as the cult of optimism would have us do, or we can acknowledge and embrace the sorrow that is a natural response to loss, devastation and catastrophe. In grief we make a choice to honor the lost and their existence. We speak in a clear voice, to anyone who will listen, that their lives mattered. And we are also forced to face our own mortality in the process.

Agreeing to walk through our grief honestly can be a catalyst for creative defiance and undaunted dissent. It is perhaps the only resistance we can offer to the insistence of apathy imposed on us from the wraiths on Wall Street and Madison Avenue. The unnatural barriers they have erected to mask our humanity crumble in the rancid pile they deserve when a soul is set free to grieve. It is in grief that we find ourselves to be inseparable from each other, and from the nature from which we are all born. In this way, sorrow is the only coherent answer to extinction. It is a wail of conscience.

sea turtle

(photo: Getty Images)

Bearing witness to the unprecedented crime of ecocide sweeping our planet is not accepting the carnage, it is lending another voice to testify on the behalf of the victims. And in doing so, it succeeds in making the difficult case for the worth of the human soul.

Kenn Orphan  2014

https://vimeo.com/120614998

Humanity’s Epitaph

The Peoples March Mel Evans  APLast month hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of major cities, most especially New York, for the People’s Climate March ahead of the neutered Climate Summit at the United Nations. It was a remarkable moment for the environmental movement which, in the United States at least, has become largely mainstreamed into corporate doublespeak, wedded to the establishment and co-opted for political gain by the Democratic Party. The enthusiasm and desire for a better future in the vast majority of these protestors should not be questioned or criticized; but the effectiveness of this march, if we truly wish to see any success from it, should.

Within the last decade there have been monumental shifts in climate models leaving even the conservative IPCC shocked and frightened. The overriding consensus within the climate science community is that things are far more dire than anyone had previously anticipated. Now we are beginning to see the first stirrings of climate chaos; and it is set against the ominous backdrop of corporate capitalism’s incessant, insatiable and rapacious plunder of an already ravaged planet. Catastrophic flooding, record breaking temperature extremes and intractable drought have become the defining norm of the 21st century.

Bus in Calgary, Alberta, floods
(A public bus traverses flood waters in Calgary, Alberta.  Photo: Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press)

By many estimations the proverbial 11th hour for the climate. and thus for humanity itself, has been drastically reduced to one minute before midnight. Yet in this unprecedented moment in human history ineptitude, lack of will and doltish denial continue to reign within the avenues of power. The machinery of entrenched political power and wealth is a formidable adversary and any change in direction is generally derailed if the masters of the machine cannot profit from it. Appealing to this depraved and ultimately suicidal sensibility has proven to be ruinous for any meaningful progress to stem the advance of climate change.

The People’s Climate March was arguably a noble venture to raise awareness and prick the ears of the powers that be. It could be dismissed as naive or even a foolish waste of time by some; after all promoting or peddling false hope or optimism only serves the status quo of doing nothing. But the misanthropy of weary activists itself will damn the efficacy of the movement just as much as rampant denialism, intransigence or profiteering at the expense of the climate.

US-CLIMATE-DEMO
(photo: Associated Press)

Worldwide weather patterns are rapidly becoming chaotic and severe. Reality asserts that we may have already passed the tipping point and climate catastrophe is only a matter of time. Therefore the need for a realistic approach has never been more paramount than it is today, if for no other reason than to attempt to alleviate the suffering we see today and that will inevitably follow.

We must face the fact that climate change is here to stay and it is growing angrier by the minute. We must accept our culpability in the ecocide that is vanishing countless species from the earth at breakneck speed. We must also realize that the powerful are, despite their strident assertions, not in control and have instead chosen the easy path of playing on people’s prejudices, ignorance and fears in order to exact the largest profit they can as the lights go out. They have used our precious resources to build walls to protect them, free speech zones to insulate them from voices of dissent, and institutions to defend their crimes. They stoke the fires of bigotry and Bronze Age mythology in order to distract us from their theft and murder. They create new enemies to be fought so that the public does not see how utterly inept they are at dealing with the real and urgent threats to collective humanity.
Well heeled 1% look on at Occupy Wall Street protestors  Photo Associated Press
(Well heeled 1% look on in bewildered amusement at Occupy Wall Street protestors.  Photo: Associated Press)

If this movement is to have any success it must move quickly to disrupt and dismantle the mechanisms of industrialization via fossil fuels that are driving us rapidly towards calamity. It must divorce itself from Wall Street and corporate wealth. It must tear down the old vestiges of prejudice, racism and bigotry that merely serve to embolden state violence and reinforce repression. It must shake off the privilege of Western neoliberal economics that have served to exploit impoverished nations through the lie of “free trade” and devastate ecosystems.  In so doing, it must derive its strength from the bottom up, dismissing any enticements from parasitic political entities that only seek to render it anemic through guile and deceitful placation. And it must identify and align itself with the poor and disenfranchised of the planet.

Belo Monte dam protest
(Indigenous Brazilians protest the construction of the Belo Monte dam on the Xingu river.  Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

If it cannot do this then it was nothing more than a vain political spectacle that should be fast replaced.  Otherwise it will only serve as humanity’s epitaph.

Kenn Orphan  2014

Photo: Protesters in New York City – Mel Evans/AP