Author Archives: Kenn Orphan

About Kenn Orphan

Kenn Orphan is a social worker, artist, and human and environmental rights advocate.

Being an Ally of the Next Generation

I feel so honoured and flattered to have been interviewed by a small group of 5th graders in Japan about the crisis of ecological destruction and climate change this evening. My nephew Nate is a mentor to these wonderful young people and recommended me as a source for their project.

I know there are some people who may think this is trite and I suspect these are the same people who were put down or ridiculed when they were young. In many ways, we have all had that experience, especially in Western society. When we were children many of us were told to be quiet, that we were ignorant, or that we would change. Here is the thing, I did change, but not in the cynical way I was told I would. Instead, I made the conscious effort to jettison those ideas and expand my curiosity, imagination and empathy.

Our culture has designed an artificial barrier between generations, one that sadly works very well at keeping people divided for exploitation and consumer purposes. This only spawns rancor and alienation. But even though it may sound cliché, young people are the future. They deserve a world that is far better than the one we are leaving them. I hope I can be an ally to them for that world.

Kenn Orphan April 2021

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

Remembering LaDonna Tamakawastewin Allard

“Standing Rock was a seed of knowledge about how we can live on the Earth again. This means understanding how to live with respect, how to listen to our mother.” – LaDonna Tamakawastewin Allard

I am saddened to hear of the passing of LaDonna Tamakawastewin Allard, water and land defender, historian, founder of the Sacred Stone Camp and member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. She inspired a generation to join the struggle against ecocide and the destruction of our home and take a stand for what is sacred, our water, our land, our mother. May her journey to the ancestors be blessed.

Kenn Orphan April 2021

How the Pandemic Laid Bare the Cruelty of Capitalism

One thing this pandemic has demonstrated in stark terms is class struggle. Those people deemed essential, though often applauded in public, have been treated as expendable. In truth, they were always treated this way. But this last year has made this struggle visible for anyone paying attention.

The medical staff, grocery clerks, janitors, sanitation workers, transportation services, delivery people, all of them have been the ones on the front lines, not only of potential exposure to a lethal pathogen, but to abuse from privileged customers, clients or patients who feel their rights have somehow been violated for being asked to simply wear a mask. I can’t count how many videos I have seen of people (mostly white and middle to upper middle class) berating workers. And this often takes on a racist tone.

Over the past year we have witnessed people throwing groceries at workers, spitting at them, calling them names. In various states, from California to Texas to Florida, there have been mobs that invaded stores like Target or Home Depot without masks and carrying anti-masker and “Covid is Hoax” signs, even physically attacking other customers and workers. And in one recent instance in British Columbia an older white male customer was asked to wear a mask in a pizza restaurant. He answered angrily: “are you f**king Middle Easter or where are you from?” Concluding with “I’m worth $50 million, you’re worth zero.” He and his companion then went on to assault a teenage customer outside tearing his mask from his face.

How disconnected from reality could one be to think that being asked to wear a mask in a store is a violation of ones’ rights? And how privileged does one have to be to think dressing down a worker is somehow a noble expression of those supposed rights? And this gets to the crux of the problem: capitalism.

Capitalism is about class and status. The man who said he was worth $50 million and clerk worth $0 really believes it. And it is a system that posits the supposed “rights” of the individual over the well being of the community. But many of these rights are merely privilege and have little to nothing to do with liberating oppressed or marginalized members of society or protecting the most vulnerable or persecuted. It is the very opposite of cooperation and mutual respect. And it is an arrangement which always favors the wealthy and upper classes disproportionately over the poor and working class. This is because the list of “rights” seldom, if ever, include basics like housing, food, healthcare, education or meaningful work.

This is playing out most obviously in the ongoing strikes against corporations like Amazon and the fast food industry. But in the US, as well as some other western nations, liberals have found themselves alienated from these struggles thanks to years of political pandering to corporations. We should ask ourselves why these workers aren’t even asking for a good wage, they are only asking for a livable wage. “Livable.” And yet they work 80 or more hours a week yet cannot “live” on the pittance they get. All while there are people like Bezos and Musk who pay little to no taxes and make thousands of dollars a minute while they sleep.

The pandemic has laid bare how the systemic inequities of capitalism manifest in real abuse and contempt for low wage workers. Often this is compounded by racism and xenophobia. But it isn’t simply the tirades of entitled anti-maskers against people behind the counter making minimum wage. It is warehouses and other places of business that have put low wage workers at risk by exposing them to Covid-19, while providing them no paid sick leave or a “livable” wage. It is about a government that provides subsidies to corporations and the military industrial sector, while denying the public basic healthcare, good housing, free education and opportunities for growth.

But outrage at individual instances of worker abuse captured on TikTok or Youtube is not enough. The entire system is designed to inflict cruelty on the most vulnerable in society. And if we cannot see the machine behind this all, we will lack the most effective tools to dismantle it.

Kenn Orphan April 2021

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

Humans, Nature and the Illusion of Separateness

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

One of the biggest lies that people in the global north were sold and have largely internalized is that we are separate from the biosphere from which we evolved and on which we depend upon for our very survival. Even as we stand on the precipice of ecological collapse, human supremacy over nature has been the unchallenged narrative. As a result, those who have taken up the struggle to protect this fragile arrangement of existence are often otherized. Their “cause” is treated as just one of many. The “treehugger?” The “environmentalist?” The person who “cares about the earth?” How noble. How non-threatening. It becomes just another cause in a myriad of causes.

The message here is that we ought not think of this in terms of human survival. In existential terms. That would be too hyperbolic. Too woo-woo. The corporations that derive every bit of their wealth from the true “commonwealth” of all species on this planet want nothing less than for us to think we are either above it all or separate from it all. If more make the connection that we need to stop the decimation of the natural world it will ultimately put a dent in their profit margin. If we are honest, that is what the current economic and political order cares about the most.

To be fair, capitalism cannot do anything but accumulate more and more capital. And capital is virtually everything that exists, from the raw minerals and petrol deep in the earth’s crust, to the fish in the sea and trees in the boreal range, to governments and politicians, to our own personal information and preferences. It has created a global arrangement of power that must use obfuscation as well as violence, or its threat, as a way of keeping the engine running.

But if we see this as truly existential we begin to realize that things like plugging in our single person vehicles, or replacing plastic straws with bamboo ones, or recycling our plastic water bottles are mostly window dressing for an unfolding catastrophe. They are intended to obscure one of the biggest crimes in human history, the wholescale destruction of life on earth for the profit of the corporate class.

None of this is meant to encourage conspiratorial thinking. It is not to imply that there is a group of evil villains meeting in a secret boardroom plotting the destruction of the earth’s biosphere somewhere either. But it does involve a sort of conspiracy at work. Just a few years ago we learned that the tobacco industry hired physicians to lie about the harmful affects of smoking even though they knew very well that it caused potentially fatal conditions like heart disease, emphysema and lung cancer. Plastic companies have been greenwashing the massive production of their products by promoting programs like recycling, which barely put a dent in the growing problem of plastic pollution. And we learned relatively recently that the fossil fuel industry did something similar regarding the danger of endless burning of fossil fuels and its acceleration of climate change. Corporate entities are simply incapable of grappling with the destructive affects of their mode of operation if it interferes with the endless growth and increased profit paradigm.

The danger we now face could not be more dire. World renowned political dissident and author Noam Chomsky has warned that “the future of organized human life” is imperiled by climate change. A recent piece from 17 scientists in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science warned of “ghastly” consequences from ecological degradation if radical steps are not taken. And Australian scientists released a sobering report this year about diverse ecosystems in the region that are in a state of collapse, from the tropics to coral reefs to the desert and Antarctica.

Whether or not one believes these reports, there is ample evidence of massive ecological destruction throughout the global south which is a direct result of extractive and exploitative industries in the global north. Clear cutting forests, from Brazil to Indonesia, has exploded exponentially. Sub-standard mining practices have defiled waterways. Pollution from fossil fuel extraction continues to be a scourge, from noxious benzene plumes and effluent in the Niger Delta to open oil pits in the Ecuadorian Amazon to massive spills on coral reefs off Mauritius. Rubbish from the global north is routinely dumped in regions in the global south that are not regulated or policed. And the new “green” technology is threatening to destroy even more habitats with lithium mines and solar farms. This is what the corporate policy of “externalized costs” really looks like. It is also how the lie of separateness is made manifest. Corporations move from one sacrifice zone to the next, but on a finite world this Faustian bargain was doomed from the start.

We have been warned that there is a need for radical change. Unsurprisingly, the corporations that run the world’s affairs have incorporated much of this language into their mission statements and ethos. But we should understand that this is nothing more than another subterfuge. A way to maximize their profit from a dying world all while giving it a greenwashed face. They must maintain the current rate of extraction and growth in order to do this. But now they have been forced to change the language they use. To be sure, no real sacrifices will be asked from us in the global north who have largely benefitted from this untenable and unfair way of life. As George H.W. Bush famously declared: “The American way of life is not up for negotiations. Period.” And by this he meant the American model of endless accumulation of capital and consumption for a few at the expense of the many and the living earth.  

Humanity is facing its nemesis. The thin layer of air and water that embraces the crust of this planet, and on which we are fully dependent, is imperiled like no other time in human history. And there is a clear cause for this. Corporations, with the help of the military and political sectors, are rapidly unraveling the fragile net that holds us. And they get away with it because most of us still think we are somehow separate from nature. Thich Nhat Hanh’s quote at the top of this essay might be taken as strictly spiritual in its implications by some. But I think it also has a very tangible application to where we are as a species. For too long we have allowed the narrative to be dictated by the myth of our separateness and dominance over the earth and all that lives here. And that narrative has led us to the brink of utter catastrophe. Dispelling this toxic illusion is imperative, therefore, for our very survival.

Kenn Orphan April 2021

Title painting is Ecocide by Carlita Shaw

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

9 minutes, 29 seconds

9 minutes, 29 seconds.

9 minutes, 29 seconds was how long Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck.

9 minutes, 29 seconds he ignored his desperate pleas for mercy.

9 minutes, 29 seconds he ignored the cries of outrage and despair of those watching it all.

9 minutes, 29 seconds he stayed where he was even as George lay lifeless, even as they checked for a pulse and did not find one.

9 minutes, 29 seconds.

Kenn Orphan April 2021

#JusticeforGeorgeFloyd #BlackLivesMatter

An Easter Meditation

A meditation on this holy week for Christians: Jesus was not killed by sex workers, or the houseless, or LGBTQ people, or by menial laborers, or immigrants, or women. He was ordered to be crucified by a political leader at the behest of an organized and powerful group of religious clerics. A public execution that was then carried out by soldiers and armed guards of the ruling court in a fashion that was designed to humiliate both the accused and those who loved the accused. All of them were powerful men of prestige and authority. This is an important reminder today because, sadly, when it comes to justice, little has changed in 2000 years.

Kenn Orphan March 2021

𝑃𝑎𝑖𝑛𝑡𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑖𝑠 “𝐽𝑒𝑠𝑢𝑠 𝑏𝑒𝑓𝑜𝑟𝑒 𝑃𝑖𝑙𝑎𝑡𝑒” 𝑏𝑦 𝐻𝑢𝑛𝑔𝑎𝑟𝑖𝑎𝑛 𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑠𝑡 𝑀𝑖ℎ𝑎𝑙𝑦 𝑀𝑢𝑛𝑘𝑎𝑐𝑠𝑦 (1844-1900).

The Suez Crisis: A Gentle Warning from the Earth

Now that news is focused on a cargo ship clogging the Suez Canal, one of the busiest trade routes in the world, it is worth reviewing the ecocidal destruction caused by these behemoths.

There are over 5000 cargo ships in use today. They have grown exponentially in size over the last two decades. They, along with military and cruise ships, pollute the marine environment with noise from engines and sonar. As a result, cetacean populations, along with other marine mammals and fish, have been steadily falling. The sounds these species endure are deafening, inescapable, and are behind mass beaching events and other physical and emotional stresses, including a drop in fertility.

In addition to this, deaths of blue whales, the largest of all mammals on earth, have been rapidly increasing due to collisions with cargo ships. The soft flesh of a whale is no match for the steel of these monsters of rapacious consumption. Add to this plastic litter, the warming created by the burning of fossil fuels, and the effluent from engines, and a picture of ecocidal catastrophe on a global scale becomes clear.

So maybe this incident off of Egypt is a wake up call. The current economic arrangement is a death sentence for countless species that we share this planet with. It has been for centuries. The global north’s dependence on the “latest” object or item is undoubtedly fueling much this enormous growth in marine traffic. And it isn’t so beneficial to those workers in the global south either. Those who work in dangerous sweatshops for pennies a day.

Scientists have been warning us for decades about tipping points and ecological collapse. This time, the earth gently struck back, blowing one of these ships onto the sandy banks of a human made conduit for endless, cancerous, capitalist growth. Despite the hysteria of some in the corporate press, it is unlikely to cause that much stress to ordinary people. Just a few stockholders. Ships will be rerouted and in a few weeks the canal will be cleared.

But next time Mother Earth may not be so kind to us with her warning.

Kenn Orphan March 2021

*Photo is of a near miss of a cargo ship and a blue whale and is courtesy of NOAA.

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

Thoughts on the Massacre in Atlanta

This is Randy Park, one of the sons of Hyun Jung Grant, a victim of the horrendous massacre that took place this past week in Atlanta. He said she was a mother “who dedicated her whole life to providing for my brother and I.” And that “she was one of my best friends and the strongest influence on who we are today. Losing her has put a new lens on my eyes on the amount of hate that exists in our world.”

But the Cherokee County Police were more sympathetic to her killer and his “really bad day.” They wasted no time explaining that he was “fed up” and “at the end of his rope” and dealing with the “temptation” of “sexual addiction.” They immediately, without even a hint of hesitation, ruled out a racist motive for the crime. But it didn’t take long for people to find racist themes throughout his social media. So regardless of the “day” he was having, his “feelings” do not deserve to be centered. His racism and misogyny do.

Anti-Asian rhetoric gained momentum over the past year with the pandemic. Attacks, ridicule and casual hate speech. I saw the anti-China crusade being ramped up under Trump, but it is continuing even now under the new Biden administration. To think that this does not have an impact is ridiculous.

And, as in the case of George Floyd, the women who were murdered are now being slandered in some parts of the press because they may have been sex workers. We don’t really know if this is true, but would it matter? It is time to make it clear that sex work IS work. And no one who does it deserves violence.

May Hyun Jung Grant and the seven other victims rest in peace. And may their families gain the strength to rebuild their lives from the wreckage of this devastating attack.

Kenn Orphan March 2021

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

what does it say of us

what does it say of us
who live at the tail end of industrial hubris
on a sphere
adrift in space
without any other voice
we can hear nor comprehend
we who live
beneath the icy sheen of ozone in a viscous goo so rich
with all manner of life
that it is the envy of empty orbs
for lightyears around
and we yet we want more
newts, antelope,
amoebas, pines, moths
panthers, willows, scorpions
all manner of fungi
and moss
and bacteria
and fauna
and flora
what does it say of our times
when an era replaces the living
with barcodes
and then encases them in plastic
or sprays them
with chemicals
what does it say of our morality
whose flags and bombs and rulers and celebrities
garner more honour than our kin
and whose borders carve up the warm loam
of whence we came
and where we shall return
pollywogs, carps,
hornbills, banyans, hydras
lemurs, wasps, mold
all manner of fungi
and moss
and bacteria
and fauna
and flora
what does it say of our existence
who lie about what it means
to possess a body
attached to this mortal coil
yet casually replace it
with pixelated zeros and ones
our moments are scattered
like the dust we breathe in
and time we experience
is limited
even as we treat it as a bane
to be idle
what, then, does it say of us
Kenn Orphan  March 2021


*Photo is by Kenn Orphan. It is the silhouette of a howler monkey, and was taken in the rainforests of Nicaragua. 

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here: DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

The Amazon Chernobyl is a Warning for Us All

“We must answer their call. Our Mother Earth, militarized, fenced-in, poisoned, a place where basic rights are systematically violated, demands that we take action. Let us build societies that are able to coexist in a dignified way, in a way that protects life. Let us come together and remain hopeful as we defend and care for the blood of the Earth and of its spirits.” – Berta Caceres, Indigenous rights and environmental activist of the Lenca people, murdered in Honduras in 2016

If there is one glaring truth of the 21st century, it is that Indigenous people are at the forefront of a war being waged against the living earth itself. From the Athabasca to the Niger Delta to the Ecuadorian Amazon, the fossil fuel industry, along with other extractive industries, are drenched in the blood of countless innocent people and responsible for ecological annihilation on a scale that is unimaginable. With all of this comes global impunity. These industries enjoy legal protection from the most powerful state entities on earth. Their crimes, of which we are all a victim, go unpunished.

There are few better examples of how the fossil fuel industry operates with impunity than in Chevron-Texaco’s deliberate destruction of the Ecuadorian Amazon, often referred to as the “Amazon Chernobyl” due to the scale of the catastrophe. From 1964 to 1992 Texaco, the company acquired by Chevron with all of its liabilities, polluted a 1700 square mile swath of pristine rainforest. In its lust for profits, the company cut corners and dumped at least 19 billion gallons of toxic water into the environment. It discharged 17 million gallons of crude into unlined pits, some as deep as 30 feet, on the forest floor. There is no telling how many species succumbed to the horrors of such unbridled greed.

But this is also a story of environmental racism. For decades, Indigenous people of this region were told that the oil was no threat to them. On the contrary, many of them were told that it had medicinal value and contained “vitamins.” Thousands of people used that water. They drank it, cooked with it, bathed in it, oblivious to the danger. After seeing a spike in birth defects and cancers, that danger became increasingly clear. Unable to relocate because of crushing, imposed poverty, they are forced to live in this human-made disaster area, even though it is slowly killing them.

Despite losing its legal battle, as well as an appeal to the highest court in Ecuador which ordered them to pay 9.5 billion USD for clean up and healthcare for the communities affected by its crime, Chevron has yet to pay a dime. Even the Hague, that supposed bastion of justice that wastes no time prosecuting African dictators, sided with Chevron’s corporate criminals.

And the company has done everything it can to persecute its victims, and hold them responsible for its own malfeasance. It has ruthlessly gone after the Indigenous people who dared oppose it, as well as their defenders. One is human rights lawyer, Steven Donziger, who was largely to thank for winning the case against Chevron. He has been under house arrest for nearly 600 days due to a spurious charge by a judge well known to be in the pocket of Big Business.

Indeed, Chevron is attempting to use an American statute, once reserved for prosecuting the Mafia, on Indigenous land and water defenders, environmentalists, and anyone who stands in solidarity with them. The ramifications for this are, of course, chilling to say the least. If they succeed, there is nothing to stop other corporate abusers in going after Indigenous people elsewhere, or other human and environmental rights activists.

Of course Chevron is not alone. The industries responsible for carving the great, festering wound in the living loam of the earth, known as the Alberta Tar Sands, have managed to suppress information regarding adverse health affects on Indigenous people in that region for many years. Even in this case, it is environmental racism writ large with health authorities blaming Indigenous people’s illnesses on “poor eating habits, obesity and smoking” rather than the obvious pollution being spewed into the atmosphere or poured into waterways from nearby plants. They routinely side with Big Oil against Indigenous people and the biosphere in one of the most greenwashed countries in the world.

And in the Niger Delta, one of the most important wetland regions on the planet, Royal Dutch Shell has been systematically devastating wildlife and water for decades with near impunity. 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 into the ecosystem.

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.

None of this would be possible without the marriage of the corporation and the state. Shell has had a long history of assisting and directing the Nigerian military in the violent suppression of dissent and protest; and Indigenous 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 the company. Today, the plunder and devastation of the Niger Delta continues.

For decades fossil fuel industries, as well as other extractive companies and corporations, have managed to wreak devastation on our fragile biosphere with no consequence for their crimes. Indeed, they have succeeded in controlling a weak global judiciary beholden to corporate interests. But humanity is in an existential crisis like never before. We can no longer stand idly by while the corporate state ravages our world and our future before our eyes. Indigenous people have been calling for us to recognize the deathward trajectory of our political and economic order for centuries. And if we continue to ignore their plea for sanity it will be at our collective peril.

Kenn Orphan March 2021

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!