Monthly Archives: November 2018

The Same Boat

This photo of a horned owl was taken on a beach in Malibu during the catastrophic fires currently devouring huge swaths of California. It had likely taken refuge here from the fires, smoke, heat and strong Santa Ana winds that are fueling them.
The fires in California are still raging largely out of control. At least 31 are confirmed dead, towns have be erased, and over two hundred people are still missing. Only a year ago fires churned up vast areas of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties. This past summer the Pacific Northwest was ablaze, producing smoke that stretched as far east as Newfoundland and beyond and could be seen from space. But what is so often sidelined or downplayed is the enormous impact disasters like this have on wildlife.
This particular photo has a haunting, even iconic, quality. It is captivating. The owl almost seems to be looking at us inquisitively as if to say “what have you and your kind done to my world?” It is a stark and sobering reminder to us homo sapiens that this planet does not only belong to us, it belongs to a myriad of species, most of whom we shall never see or hear about.
Thanks to human caused climate change, pollution and rampant development, their world is disappearing like ours, but far more rapidly than anyone can imagine. In fact, according to the World Wildlife Fund, wildlife populations have fell an unimaginable 60% globally since 1970. This owl might be the best symbol for the cruelty of this normalized and ignored catastrophe because her eyes reflect the folly of our kind. They seem to show us that despite our enormous hubris, we are all in the same boat, and that boat is on fire and sinking.
Kenn Orphan  November 2018
Photo is by Wally Skalij of the Los Angeles Times, via Getty Images.

The World that is Slipping Away

“Global climate change, over-consumption of natural resources, terror-fueled wars that led to xenophobia—these were our ancestors’ mistakes. Nations were starving to death, and people were being massacred in the thousands by radicals, and do you know what the other nations did?

 They did nothing.

 The second they stopped caring for each other is when they sealed their fate. They closed their borders. Instead of trying to save, they instead sought to preserve what they had left. This forced nations to invade in order to survive, and nuclear weapons no longer became a deterrent but a catalyst, ultimately creating a war that ended their world.” – Courtney Praski, The Seven 

  

Watching what is happening in California is heartbreaking. I lived there half my life and it will always be another home to me. But I was especially sad to hear about the town of Paradise. I had the pleasure of staying there at a friends house years ago. It was a beautiful place full of iconic tall pines and majestic volcanic geo-formations. It has been all but destroyed.

When I lived there I saw the fire season extended, year after year, until it became the entire year. It, like so many other perpetual disasters, has become normalized. But the contributors to it have also been normalized: rampant development eating up chaparral covered mountains and verdant canyons, continued extraction of fossil fuels, no long term plans for mass transit apart from auto. I lived through what I thought were apocalyptic fires where I saw ash falling from the sky like snow under an orange tinted dome, and rings of fire licking the edges of the hillside only a mile from my home. Climate change is writ large across the California landscape.

At least 200,000 people have been ordered to evacuate in California, and there have been at least a dozen deaths. But it was only a year ago fires scorched Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino, killing dozens and leaving scores homeless. Following the fires were the floods that washed more homes, and people, away in waves of mud.

Catastrophic fires churned up vast swaths of the Pacific Northwest this past summer, leaving a thick haze over the continent that rivaled the choking and toxic pollution of Dehli and Beijing. Scores perished in fast, massive blazes in Greece and Portugal this summer at the same time floods were ravaging Kerala, India and West Africa. Recently, storms and floods have lashed and inundated parts of Italy, including Venice, as well as the Middle-East and Gulf States.

For any reasonable person the dire reality of climate change cannot be denied outside of a willfully obtuse and belligerent ignorance. And yet such incredulity persists. It doesn’t help that the president of the US once said it was a Chinese hoax. Indeed, the megalomaniac in the Oval Office took time out of his day to blame California for “mismanagement” and threatened to pull federal funds. Nero himself would not have stooped to such a public display of sadism regarding the suffering of thousands of his own people. But Puerto Rico learned about this callous disregard firsthand over a year ago.

 

Each month opens a new and terrifying chapter in this climate changed world. A new catastrophe to be normalized and then forgotten and a new spike in fascist cruelty that accompanies it all. The job for us then is to refuse to normalize, refuse to forget, and to fight with all we’ve got for the world we see slipping away before us.

Kenn Orphan  November  2018

 

The Power That Must Be Resisted

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.” – Ursula Le Guin

 

When the outright fascist Jair Bolsonaro won the Brazilian presidency in October, it wasn’t just the poor, people of colour, LGBTQ, or indigenous peoples that lost. Indeed, the earth’s weakened biosphere and imperiled climate lost even bigger. The president elect of the world’s 4th largest democracy has vowed to open up vast swaths of the iconic rainforest to multinational logging, cattle, mining and agricultural industries. With this one political victory the world’s ruling capitalist elite saw more dollar signs than in their wildest dreams, and the earth’s “lungs” were given a terminal prognosis.

Bolsonaro’s rise to power bears a strong resemblance to that of Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Rodrigo Duterte and Viktor Orban. All of them have employed the techniques of classic fascism: demonizing political opponents and the media, rhetoric endorsing violence, stoking chauvinistic nationalism, scapegoating marginalized people. All them possess a disgruntled, demoralized, yet loyal base of supporters, and regularly connect with them through rallies that ridicule or bully those who dissent or disagree from their position. All of them manipulate information to spread confusion, false information or to obfuscate facts. But the most important thing these men share in common is their eagerness to wed corporate and state power, the hallmark of fascist governance. All of them sit atop treasure troves of “exploitable resources” and it is for this reason alone that they are lauded among the global capitalist elite.

Case in point, Bolsonaro received a lavish endorsement from the Wall Street Journal, the essential mouthpiece for the 1%. This should come as no surprise since their primary readership is the moneyed elite whose coffers only stand to burst with more spoils of the earth from this latest political disaster. But there are similar sentiments elsewhere. The financial newspaper Handelsblatt reported that German business leaders are “unfazed” by Bolsonaro’s election and are even “hopeful.”

Even the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), a media outlet that is supposed to be public, had the gall to suggest that this victory might be just what the Canadian economy needs. Of course, this “Canadian economy” is comprised of the wealthy mining and logging sectors alone which have already devastated vast swaths of Central and South America. Indeed, there are scores of multinational companies that must be salivating over the prospect of legalized looting they will be allowed to do under a Bolsonaro government. And they understand that they will likely get a pass for inevitable disasters. Companies like BHP, the Anglo-Australian mining company that is responsible for a massive dam break on the Doce River in 2015 that killed at least 17 people, displaced thousands, and polluted the river and beaches along the Atlantic coast. It was one of biggest environmental disasters in Brazil’s history.

To the 1% Bolsonaro’s sexism, racism and homophobia are a non-issue. His pining for the days of military dictatorship, endorsement of torture, or the slaughter of political opponents aren’t of concern either. On the contrary, these are minor footnotes on their blood soaked ledgers. While they might prefer a more polished figurehead to give inclusive sounding speeches that preserve the status quo of global capitalism with a pleasing face, they are completely fine with an outright fascist at the helm too. Look at the corporate leaders who have met with and gushed over India’s Modi to get an idea how this works. Given this, why would the complete destruction of the Amazon rainforest give them pause? To them this region of astounding biodiversity is a treasure trove of capital investment and extraction.

The Amazon rainforest loses an area the size of Costa Rica every year due to deforestation from the palm oil, soy, logging and beef industries. Illegal extraction activities, too, have defiled river ways and assaulted indigenous peoples on their ancestral lands. Indeed, the neoliberal economic policies of prior governments and championed by the liberal status quo had not prevented the ongoing destruction of the region or protected indigenous peoples. In fact they aided corporations who sought profits over the planet or people. But Bolsonaro stands to step up the carnage and open indigenous lands and areas that are now protected from the incursions of big industry. This will amount to genocide against those who live there and ecocide against the living biosphere itself.

From the Athabasca to Standing Rock to the Niger Delta to the Amazon and beyond, the earth and its peoples are under attack. Those who are leading this assault are without conscience or rationality. They are apathetic to the existential crisis we face as a species because they sincerely believe they can buy their way to higher ground; and they are virtually untouchable by the rule of law which in most cases has been constructed to protect their interests. They are a supranational capitalist class whose power lies in the dictatorship of money. But while they wield great power, they are not all powerful.

As the late Ursula LeGuin reminded us, “any power can be resisted,” and this truth is no more urgent to understand and take hold of than at this moment in history. But resistance cannot come from the status quo establishment. After all, this is the same machine that produced fascists like Trump and Bolsonaro in the first place. Resistance must be radical and it must be global because, given the circumstances and our collective predicament, only a radical paradigm shift offers a chance of creating a different world than the dystopic one we are seeing unfold before us.

 

Kenn Orphan   November, 2018