Monthly Archives: May 2015

Before the Fall

Houston Floods Source Twitter PKandDK      In the past few years scientific models have been sending humanity a rather ominous message: evidence indicates that the earth’s climate has taken a dangerous and irreversible turn. As the once frozen Arctic Ocean rapidly liquefies into ice free summers, releasing tons of the potent greenhouse gas methane, and desertification stretches out across new regions, weather patterns around the globe appear to be spiraling out of control in a nonlinear manner. Each passing month we have seen record after record be demolished. The spring of 2015 has been catastrophic with scores dying from heat waves in India, forest fires in Siberia, monstrous floods in Texas, southern China and Eastern Europe and an intractable drought in the American west, the Middle-east and Brazil. And with an El Nino looming, summer and autumn are shaping up to be even more ferocious. Yet despite the recent, historic People’s Climate March in New York City, the machine of capitalist driven consumption grinds on unabated, undeterred and unconcerned about the impending collapse.

Washington State Fire

Polyp cartoon Climate

Amidst the unfolding chaos some of us still look to the environmental movement for answers, solace, or even hope.  After all, it sprang out of sickness and grief at what this machine was doing to the natural world. It grew from the heart of empathy for all life, human and non. But the failure of the movement was in its acquiescence to capitalism. In so doing it imploded the consciousness of substantive transformation.

Capitalism, in its very essence, is about endless growth and exploitation of the environment for material gain. It is kept alive by a monetary system derived from how much energy is produced and consumed. And in the global “free market” system environmentalist causes may be soothed at home; but in far flung nations the earth and the poor are continually battered and raped by corporations and the corrupt governments that house them. Sweat shops abound, virgin forests continue to be razed for palm oil, poaching keeps animal populations constantly on the cusp of extinction, rainforests and wetlands continue to be polluted by mining companies and Big Oil, and the oceans remain the most abused natural resource on the planet. And militarism, which is of course married to capitalism, ensures that all of this exploitation can continue and expand while hiding it under a cloak of nationalistic jingoism, ironically extolling the fight for freedom and liberty while defending the greatest slaver of all time.

Defense Contractor FlagLogos

Under neoliberal capitalism, which Wikipedia defines as “privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy,”  the environmental movement morphed into what it is today, a meaningless exercise aimed at maintaining the implausibility of endless, mindless consumption with the veneer of concern for ecosystems. It has become all about “sustainability” despite the contradiction of it sustaining a system that is ultimately self-destructive. And it has branded itself with euphemisms like “green” or “earth friendly,” as if our species were somehow alien visitors to this planet and being friendly to it was a diplomatic concern.  Of course many have been cajoled by the flashy promises of mega corporations that co-opted the environmental movement for profit. And certainly, a handful of corporations did in fact change some of their practices under public pressure and for the sake of image; but the primary engine of capitalism that has led us to the brink of devastation was never halted. It merely greenwashed its planet killing practices through slick marketing campaigns. Even oil companies, the wealthiest and dirtiest of businesses, has attempted to greenify its public persona.

odin-new bear ad

General Motors Greenwashing Billboard Source Greenwashing Index

It cannot be over stated that it was fossil fuels that propelled neoliberal economics and defined Western society.   Beginning with the sterile environment of the delivery room to the cold slab of the coroner, from birth to death we are bathed in it. Our food is grown and protected by it. Our communication and transportation is dependent on it. It is the foundation of modern medicine. In short, petrochemicals, whether in solid, gaseous or liquid form, have ensured us, the privileged few, a relatively predictable and easy ride through life. But this ease came with a hefty price. The burning of these fuels has caused an unstoppable surge in temperature that imperils it all. And the rapacious appetite of corporations for the earth’s blood has ruined entire nations with war and corruption, and led to the demise of countless species, with our own likely to be on the list in the near future.

Oil Wells in Kern County California Photograph Mark Gamba

Traffic Source Shutterstock

It is a fair conclusion that Western civilization has been provided with flocks of squealing canaries warning us of the looming catastrophe that our political, media and business leaders deftly ignored in their quest for votes, ratings and profits. When a science denying cretin like Oklahoma Senator, Jim Inhofe, chairs the committee on the Environment and Public Works, or President Obama lampoons climate change deniers only to approve of Shell’s oil drilling ventures in the Arctic, one can easily see a complete dead end in elected officials. And the disinformation campaign of news outlets like Fox or the purposeful omissions of CNN present little hope in the mainstream media.

Senator Inhofe Brings a Snowball to the Senate to Disprove Climate Change Source CSpan

In truth, there are no answers to be found in the halls of Washington, the hills of Hollywood or the board rooms of Wall Street. They are all faithful servants of neoliberal capitalism, and have been laboring for years to dismember the commons, grow their inordinate wealth through plunder and maintain their dominance. The sacredness of the public space has been defiled by their liturgy of self absorbed narcissism. And they have manufactured a culture of cruelty, devoid of character and predicated on the commodification and exploitation of everything that exists. In this way, neoliberalism has become the most elaborate and successful form of brainwashing and social control the world has ever known, convincing hundreds of millions of people of the necessity of its economic tyranny.

Well heeled 1% look on at Occupy Wall Street protestors Photo Associated Press

But there is a longing for connection and solidarity with one another that transcends the mindless consumerism we have been spoon fed since birth. Therefore the most coherent response to what we are witnessing should come from ordinary people in community. And it should be organized before the fall is in full swing. The Occupy movement was a glimpse into how this can be accomplished. But if it, like any other social movement, is co-opted by a politician or party it will be crushed under its heel once in power. It is also worth remembering that all social movements, like Occupy, the Arab Uprising or Black Lives Matter, are a threat to the capitalist order and will always be met with state violence and distortion by the mainstream media.

Vigil in Bangalore

Perhaps with these concepts in mind, despite the threat of a misanthropic power class, war, famine, and a very angry climate, our species will beat the odds this time too. Indeed, homo sapiens have beaten a lot of odds. Born of the stuff that spawned all life on the planet, in ponds rich with amino acids, we eventually evolved out of several incarnations and through some very close calls into what we are today. Arguably, our altruism and communal bonds provided just as much for our survival as our cleverness and cunning. But the value of living in community and honoring the other transcends mere survival, and technology will not save civilization.  This is because it was, in part, technology which instilled in humanity the myth of separateness from the natural world, and the myriad of species we share this planet with.  And thanks to the insatiable consuming technology of industrialism, the delicate and essential life giving systems of our world are on the brink of breaking down, that is if they have not already begun to do so.

Crops Dying Time

Storm Between Green Island and Cairns Photo by Robin Wei

Industrial civilization now encompasses the entire planet with less and less arable land, acidified oceans, less potable drinking water and billions more of us on the way. When one mixes in the threat of nuclear war or meltdowns, raging storms, sea level rise and pandemics the probability of collapse becomes more prescient. And it is worth repeating that our species hasn’t figured out how to live anywhere else than this earth. One would think that would be enough to spur us to action; because it would take nothing short of a miracle to beat those odds, and we are in desperate need of one. We are standing, however, at the precipice of a Great Fall; and it would be foolish not to recognize that civilizations, both past and present, have a remarkable way of doing themselves in without much outside help at all.

The Fall of Rome, painting by Thomas Cole.Kenn Orphan  2015

No Happy Ending

Chukchi Sea Getty ImagesIn May of this year, the fate of the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Ocean was placed in the hands of a corporation responsible for decimating the once biodiverse Niger Delta. President Obama, barely a month after giving a speech that lampooned climate change deniers, gave the green light to Royal Dutch Shell to proceed with drilling operations in the remote, frozen and biodiverse region. Of course all the usual empty assurances accompanied this announcement; but history tells a different story. Countless oil spills and ravaged ecosystems around the world provide a litany of facts to easily dispel the industry’s hubris. Bird in Oil Spill Source Greenpeace

The Niger Delta is one of the most important wetland regions on the planet. Millions of people depend upon its migratory fish. But since Shell moved in the Delta has been systematically ravaged. Gas flares contaminate the air with benzene, causing birth defects and cancer among the indigenous communities. Over the past fifty years an estimated 1.5 million tons of oil has spilled in the ecosystem. In fact there is a long list of devastation around the world wrought by Royal Dutch Shell and it can be accessed here: http://www.corp-research.org/royal-dutch-shell.

Shell’s ecological destruction goes hand in hand with its brutal suppression of human rights. Its presence in the Niger Delta has brought deforestation, water pollution and poverty. Nearly 85 percent of all oil revenues go to less than 1% of the population in a country where, according to the African Development Bank, more than 70 percent live on less than one US dollar per day. Shell has had a long history of assisting and directing the Nigerian military in the violent suppression of dissent and protest; and Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa presented a problem to the oil giant in that he organized defiance of their destruction of Ogoni lands. On November 10, 1995, Saro-Wiwa was among nine other Ogoni activists murdered after being convicted in a kangaroo court at the behest of Royal Dutch Shell in Nigeria. Ken Saro-Wiwa Nigeria

Oil from a leaking pipeline burns in Goi-Bodo, a swamp area of the Niger Delta in Nigeria October 12, 2004. Oil company Royal Dutch Shell said the leak was caused by unknown saboteurs on Monday who used a hacksaw to cut open a major pipeline feeding oil to an export terminal at Bonny, southern Nigeria. The fire was still raging on Wednesday, but the company said the impact on oil output was minimal. Picture taken October 12, 2004. REUTERS/Austin Ekeinde Pictures of the Month October 2004 TA/RSS/WS - RTRDAI9

Niger Delta Oil Flaring Royal Dutch Shell Getty Images But this is by no means limited to this one corporation. The fossil fuel industry is the most profitable business the world has ever known. And it is accountable to virtually no one. It funds the most aggressive campaigns of disinformation against climate change science, yet in its quest for Arctic oil it ironically dispels this denialism with its actions. As climate change accelerates the Arctic Ocean is melting. It is estimated to have ice free summers in just a few years, something that has never happened since humans stood upright. And now its reserves of oil and gas are being seen by the short sided, the powerful and the greedy as an unprecedented opportunity for exploitation. Oil Executives Source Chip Somodevilla Getty Images North America There is no happy ending to this story as it is written today. When the first spill happens there will be no way to clean it as no technology exists. There will be no one who will be able to stop the gushing of the earth’s toxic blood into the sea. The wealthy will jet away to their seclusion and count their money while the planet burns; and the poor of the world will shoulder the hardest burdens our civilization has wrought. Countless species, some yet unknown, will die silent deaths in obscurity.  And after the Niger Delta, the Alberta Tar Sands and the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, it will become one more visible lesion our species has inflicted on the flesh of the earth.

Kenn Orphan 2015 Polar Bear in the Chukchi Sea Sounce Reuters Greenpeace-Beltra Indigenous People of the Chukchi Sea Source Before They Pass Walruses in the Chukchi Sea https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gonsu2WgXog

An Intolerable Nightmare

A Jewish settler walks past a Palestinian on Shuhada Street  in the West Bank city of Hebron. Nayef Hashlamoun Reuters

Israeli politicians and the press often become indignant when Israel is accused of apartheid. Other than the fact that the Palestinians have endured decades of military occupation, are not entitled to vote for the leaders that decide their fate, and are subject to different justice systems (Palestinians are under a military tribunal), there are many other examples in every day life. One example is Hebron, an occupied city in the West Bank. Here, on streets like Shuhada Street, Jews are segregated from Palestinians. Some may say that this is for “security,” but that is easily refuted because it began not after a Palestinian act of terrorism, but a Jewish one. In 1994 twenty-nine Palestinian worshipers were massacred at the Cave of the Patriarchs by American-born Jewish extremist, Baruch Goldstein.

Shuhuda Street Hebron

Today illegal Zionist settlers, who have appropriated land, are given financial incentives to stay there by the Israeli government and are given protection by the Israel Defense Force (IDF). In Hebron the IDF has literally sealed Palestinians into their homes on Shuhada Street, forcing them to enter and exit from their rooftops. At the market in Hebron Palestinians have been forced to put up a net over the walkway because settlers throw garbage, liquid and waste down on shoppers and vendors.  Throughout the occupied West Bank Jewish settlers harass Palestinians daily, cut or burn down their olive trees and poison wells with impunity. Palestinians have great difficulty obtaining building permits; and homes are routinely demolished while the Israeli government funds the construction of illegal Jewish-only settlements.  As the United Nations revealed, Palestinian children (some as young as 7) are routinely arrested and held without charge or access to their parents for days or weeks.

Hebron Market with Net  Source Mother Jones


It should go without saying that criticizing this injustice is not antisemitic, a favorite slur of pro-Israel apologists. But this accusation continues despite the fact that prominent Jews and Jewish Israelis, many Holocaust survivors, have come out against the occupation. These include Miko Peled, Norman Finkelstein and the late Dr. Hajo Meyer and organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace or B’Tselem. They make it clear that this is about holding Israel accountable when it endlessly claims about how it is the “only democracy in the Middle-east” or that it is a bastion of liberty and equality. This farce is easily disputed with even tacit research into the reality.  Occupation and dehumanization are married to one another and after decades it lays down the foundations to become a state sanctioned institution.

Apartheid ended in South Africa because of a sustained movement of boycotts and divestment. And today the Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS) movement is attempting to do the same. This region could become a bastion of equality in a secular state for all people. The indigenous population could obtain autonomy and their dignity as human beings could be recognized and honored.  Colonialism could be stopped.  But as long as the United States supports this kind of intransigence and entrenched racist policy, BDS remains the only non-violent and hopeful alternative to what has become an intolerable nightmare for millions of people.

Palestinian boy holds sign in Hebron  Source Shutterstock  Mother Jones

Kenn Orphan 2015

(The video is courtesy of the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem בצלם.)