Tag Archives: climate change

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

The Power of Language in the Anthropocene

“So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.” – Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

 

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” – Noam Chomsky

“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 K. Le Guin

 

“Let us wake up, humankind! We’re out of time. We must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism and patriarchy that will only assure our own self-destruction.”  – Berta Cáceres, Indigenous and environmental activist, murdered by a rightwing Honduran death squad.

 

At a certain point reality crashes headlong into toxic naivety. It is inevitable. One can only go on so long in denial before it intrudes. This is also true of societies. As I write, several “unprecedented” deadly hurricanes, typhoons and tropical storms are literally swirling around the world’s oceans. One of them has churned through the Carolinas. But this is a place where analysis of the threat of sea level rise was forbidden by a state determined to erase any public discourse on climate change in deference to its moneyed industries. Another one, the strongest on the planet, has devastated swaths of the Philippines and Hong Kong. On the opposite end of the spectrum wildfires have scorched huge swaths of North America, Greece and Spain and floods have inundated villages from Italy to India. Year after year the broken records and damages pile up, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for even the most irrational or dimwitted to ignore the unfolding climate chaos. Yet still the language of the Anthropocene remains a convoluted mess of obscurantism and outright denial.

For those living on the margins of empire no statement can be too exaggerated when it comes to the existential threats they are facing. Along with climate change they are on the frontlines of a war waged against them by the forces of capital. Along sacred rivers in the American Dakotas, in the life drenched rain forests of Ecuador, Peru and Brazil, the poisoned wetlands of the Athabasca, the unforgiving, mineral rich deserts of Western Sahara and Afghanistan, the melting tundra of the Arctic circle, the carcinogenic corridors of the American Midwest, the sun baked Niger Delta, the sullied waters of the Flint River, and in the misery laden, blockaded and besieged shanty’s of Kolkata, Manilla and beyond, battles are raging against the poor and time is running out.

 

These are the forgotten of the earth. The ones whose lives or struggles don’t register in a corporate press beholden to profits and enamored by spectacle. Their tragedies, though measured in the hundreds of thousands if not more, don’t spur hashtag movements, or generate round the clock coverage on network and cable news, or even cause the Eiffel Tower to dim. Facebook doesn’t have an option for safety check ins on these kinds of catastrophes either. Their poisoned fields, flooded villages and dried out crops pass away to more scintillating news about salacious celebrities or idiotic tweets from the bloated narcissist in the Oval Office. But they are the first victims of climate change and the merciless cupidity of the global capitalist class. The 1% whose corporations ransack and pillage the world leaving countless bodies and shattered communities in their wake.

 

In their quest to maintain and indefinitely grow their coffers, they see all of these unfolding and looming catastrophes as economic opportunities. And if they do not employ think tanks to muddy the waters of public discourse with outright denialism, they use obscurantist language designed to rationalize the unfettered exploitation of capital. Dissolving ice caps are a strategic option for geopolitical and business advancement. Atmospheric warming gases are the chance to advance a scheme of carbon trading. Hunger and famine are economic and technological opportunities to litter the world with more profitable pesticides, chemically/genetically altered food, or factory farms. Flattened woodlands and fouled rivers become excuses for moving indigenous peoples into overcrowded, cordoned off corporate colonies for easier exploitation, social control, neglect and abandonment. They see the resulting unrest and political dissatisfaction as opportunities for technological advances in surveillance and security, selling arms and weapons to any faction or regime that is interested and can pay.

 

Sometimes it may be difficult to identify who they really are. And to some extent, we are all complicit in the destruction of the earth’s habitat, especially those of us in the global north. But we have been conditioned to perceive our world by the dominant culture of our time; and that culture is undeniably defined by the forces of capital. Historically, language has always served as a means for social control. Colonized indigenous peoples understand this all too well. One of the first actions by colonizers was to erase indigenous history. The next was to erase the language.

 

Today the 1% have imposed a culture of obfuscation and use language that is intentionally duplicitous. This isn’t that difficult to grasp when we are reminded that only a handful of corporations control at least 90% of the media. Their technicians are peddlers of meaningless, alienating or demoralizing jargon. And they are integrated into the highest precincts of power. The Pentagon and the Department of Defense have long dictated Hollywood propaganda, but now social media has emerged and taken it to a whole other level. Its algorithms are designed to prick neuro-signals that enable social control and conformity. It has been a boon to the surveillance state. In the meantime a parlance of pale, placating euphemisms numbs us to our own oblivion. And it is done with such staggering precision and ease that it has become ever more difficult to decipher and parse.  But in the end not even the most viral of memes or clever of hashtags will be able to eternally hide atrocity or cloak the stench of a dying world.

 

While there are cracks in the façade, the zeitgeist of the era still demands a kind of militant optimism and the denial of reality. One can see this in a simple test. Mention the words ‘climate change’ in the comment section of a report on a hurricane or wildfire on almost any mainstream news page and you will see a flurry of laugh emojis and comments of ridicule. Such coordinated assaults on reason have the fingerprints of denialist think tanks like The Heartland Institute all over it. But even many self-described progressives perpetuate a language that denies the lived reality of millions of people or pose solutions that do nothing to dislodge the failed and utterly corrupt capitalist paradigm. They insist on political solutions, even pseudo-socialist ones, within a bipartisan framework that has proven to be a sham. And how has this helped anyone? In the US most live in state of perpetual stress and distraction. Distracted by the demands of work, shrinking social safety nets and a political landscape that has merged with mass entertainment, the corporate surveillance state keeps the masses in line by neutralizing public opinion, policing thought and censoring dialogue. Many live in states that are destined to experience more and more catastrophic flooding or prolonged and entrenched drought thanks to climate change.

 

Hyperbolic? Perhaps to some. But in the global south, which often includes areas inside Western nations, dystopia is now. They inhabit capitalism’s sacrifice zones, places where ruthless exploitation, destruction and abandonment are considered acceptable. For them water is already scarce, food is already insecure, addiction is already an epidemic, cancer and other diseases are already the norm, and their homes are already sinking beneath the tide. They understand that denialism, false hope and language that cloaks reality only perpetuate the misery and maintains the status quo death march to extinction. They have taught us all how we must dissent to the madness of the Anthropocene. Thanks to centuries of massacre, exploitation and having their histories rewritten, from Chiapas to Sápmi, they have responded by nourishing solidarity and resistance. They have demonstrated to us that agency rests in a relentless drive to push back, build economies independent of the “free market,” foster independent media and journalism, create representative forms of governance despite cynicism, stand united against the violence of the state against the odds, paint murals that reflect the people’s history and speak in a language that boldly defies the ruling class narrative.

 

As a species we have either created, permitted or have been oppressed by an order that has been threatening our collective demise for decades in what amounts to a mere blip of geologic time. Indeed, it is this order that has already sentenced countless species to the halls of extinction, carpet bombed millions over the last century, justified slavery, devastated verdant regions, and enslaved millions of people around the world in for profit prisons, sweatshop fire traps, pesticide ridden fields and lung choking mines. But we should understand that the language of this era is no accident. It has been carefully crafted by the forces of capital to control the dominant narrative, condition our thinking, and dictate how we will act. It is designed to keep us distracted while they keep up their pillage. The beginning of dissent and resistance, then, lies in learning a different tongue.

 

Kenn Orphan   September 2018

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

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

 

 

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

The Canaries We Ignore

The images and video that have come out of Southern California this past year have been nothing less than apocalyptic. Raging fires consume dry chaparral up to the edge of bloated freeways with 10 lanes. Entire neighbourhoods have been reduced to smoldering ash. And the lives of countless residents changed forever.
          I lived in Southern California almost half my life. Wildfires and hot, dry Santa Ana winds were a part of every autumn. But something palpable shifted in the last few years I was there. The fire season became year round, wildfires became more like firestorms and those desert winds, which I had loved so much in the early years, became more like infernal blasts from an open furnace, mercurial and desiccating to everything they touched.

Like the record breaking storms, floods and hurricanes of late, these fires are more canaries in the collective coal mine we all inhabit. And with each passing year and every accumulating catastrophe their clarion call becomes more urgent and shrill. Yet in spite of their insistence the global order remains relatively unchanged and alarmingly unperturbed.

It is becoming increasingly undeniable that human beings are now at a crossroad as never before encountered in history. In its relatively short time, industrial civilization has brought amazing technological advances. Diseases have been cured, massive feats of agriculture have fed millions, and we were able to break the gravitational bonds of this planet and become a spacefaring civilization. But its marriage to corporate capitalism was one made in hell. And the Faustian bargain that fossil fuels offered humanity unleashed a boundless and insatiable greed which blinds all who profit from it to their ruination.

The result has been the despoiling of the living biosphere on which we all rely. We have entered into the Sixth Mass Extinction where at least 150 species are lost every day to human activity. Recent studies have confirmed a catastrophic drop in insect populations worldwide thanks to petro-based pesticides used in industrial scale agriculture, climate change, and destruction of habitat. Marine life is suffering a similar fate with bird populations being decimated by loss of food sources and plastic pollution which 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 ocean acidification. Forests are being felled at a rate akin to a New Zealand sized area every year. Yet despite these staggering developments little to nothing of substance is being done on the global scale that is needed.

Here is where people of conscience must be brutally truthful about our 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 exploitation of the global south. And there will be no substantive actions taken by the corrupt political and business leaders who profit from this global arrangement, to halt this plunder or stem the carnage of the planet’s rich biodiversity. 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.

 And their criminal ineptitude has never stopped at non-humans. As this century unfolds, cities will be lost to rising seas as governments will eventually find that they are too expensive to salvage. Regions will become uninhabitable from pollution and drought. The specters of famine and disease will haunt billions of people. And mass migration will put a strain on fragile social and economic systems that already suffer from vast, structurally imposed inequities.

Their answer to the concomitant unrest will be more Orwellian doublespeak and insidious distraction, coupled with draconian crackdowns on dissent, protest or objection. They will aggressively mock, smear and persecute truth tellers and peddle in jingoism, xenophobia and nationalism. War mongering, austerity and the scapegoating of vulnerable people will become their preferred method of deferring from their culpability. 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.

Although “knowledge is power” is a cliché, it still holds some truth. 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 humanity, dignity and grace. 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. The risk we take includes being labeled an alarmist in a society lulled into a hypnotic trance by the slick marketing tactics of the consumerist wizards of Wall Street. But that risk pales in comparison to ignoring the screeching canaries in our midst.

 

Kenn Orphan  2017

The Normalization of Perpetual Disaster

In case you missed it…

A hole the size of the Netherlands has opened in the middle of the Antarctic ice sheet. 40,000 penguins just perished of starvation on the same continent. And earlier this summer an iceberg weighing one trillion tons broke away adding more momentum to inevitable global sea level rise.
Floods have killed thousands and displaced many more over the summer and into autumn from China to India and Nepal to Southeast Asia to West Africa. Scores of people were killed and many still missing from fires that have scorched Northern California, Spain and Portugal. Three and a half million people in Puerto Rico are still in survival mode without drinking water or electricity weeks after Hurricane Irma made landfall. Parts of the Gulf Coast are a toxic soup of chemicals. The Amazon rain forest, the lungs of the planet, are belching out smoke as it reels from 208,278 fires this year alone. And Ophelia, the bizarre tenth hurricane turned mega storm of this record breaking season is battering Ireland.

In geopolitical developments, the most powerful empire on the planet is being led by a narcissistic megalomaniac surrounded by war mongers, religious fanatics and disaster capitalists. He has been madly jostling the fragile chords that stabilize nations by threatening to annihilate 25 million people in a bath of fire and countless other souls in the region and around the world, while demanding a 10-fold increase to one of the most powerfully lethal nuclear arsenals on the planet.
There is no reason to think Trump would not carry out his threats. After all, he dropped the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan and launched military strikes on Syria over dessert garnishing high praise from many in the corporate media and politicians from both sides of the aisle. And he will get little objection from establishment Democrats who are enthusiastic cheerleaders for US militarism and voted for the 700 billion dollar increase to the already bloated US military industrial complex.
Despite all of this an eerily bizarre normalization of this descent into global chaos continues apace. The media seems to move on seamlessly from one disaster or scandal to the next. Politicians shift focus and manufacture new outrage. Meanwhile, the real existential crises drifting us ever closer to the collapse of human civilization within this century go largely unreported and vastly underestimated. We are living in an age of convergence where the consequences of decades of excess, greed, willful ignorance and dithering are finally reaching a climax. Where the chips fall in the coming years is anyone’s guess, but if we are honest we can get a pretty good picture of our current trajectory.
Looking honestly at our situation within a profoundly sick culture can often feel alienating. If we look around we may think we are seeing thousands of people simply going about their days as if nothing is wrong. This may be due in part to the normalcy bias which is defined as “a belief people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster and its possible effects, because it causes people to have a bias to believe that things will always function the way things normally function.”  But this is also reinforced by a corporate culture in which distraction and denial are encouraged and celebrated as virtues.
Conspicuous consumption is peddled as a remedy to all that ails our society. Some self medicate, some absorb themselves in the shallow, or the spectacle, or the salacious, or the vainglorious.  But still many more are simply too busy for long reflection, caring for children or sick or elderly loved ones at a time when social safety nets are being mercilessly slashed, or working 100 hours a week for a pittance just to make ends meet and struggle to pay off debts for simply living.
But on some deep level I believe we all understand our dire predicament and that it will not simply get better or go away.
Each day the unraveling of the biosphere becomes more and more apparent. The illusion that we are separate from the natural world is beginning to shatter as the human generated Sixth Mass Extinction unfurls before our eyes in real time. But in this era of late stage capitalism and the prevalence of inverted totalitarianism the last thing we should expect is for the powers that be to make the bold changes necessary to stop the descent of civilization or even provide meaningful solutions or mitigation of the current and looming catastrophes.

Given the graveness of the situation it is easy to feel a deep sense of powerlessness or even paralyzed. And it may not be exactly comforting, but we should not look at our unease as an unhealthy response to the existential crises of our times. Contrary to the prevailing mantra depression and anxiety should be expected as normal responses to what we face collectively, because our very DNA is threaded with this world’s rhythm. And without a doubt, that collective pulse appears to be quickening.

 

Kenn Orphan  2017
 

Puerto Rico: Climate Change on the Margins of Empire

Right now Puerto Rico, an American island of over 3.4 million people, is in ruins thanks to the rampage of two major hurricanes, Irma and Maria respectively. Most are facing months without electricity, many are homeless, more face poor access to fresh drinking water, farms have been razed, and the specter of disease looms over flooded towns and toxic industrial and military superfund sites. Officials on the island have described the situation as “apocalyptic.” Now a dam is dangerously close to bursting. This is our climate changed present and future. But if you pay attention to the corporate media you might never know these facts or what they mean.

Puerto Rico seldom gets much coverage in the US mainland press because it lies in the grey zone of Empire. In fact, polling has demonstrated that most Americans do not even realize it is part of the US. But it was one of the first victims of American global expansion and hegemony following Spanish colonialism and served as a base of operations for the US military in its forays throughout the Caribbean and Central America. It was never granted statehood thanks in part to many Puerto Ricans who resisted American occupation, but also due to elites in Washington for its geopolitical advantage to the US. As a result of this marginalized status its residents cannot vote in national elections, and it has scant control over internal issues when it comes to neoliberal austerity measures, US military installations and environmental protections.

In recent years it has been put in the vice grip of debt by vultures on Wall Street, much like Greece, Spain and Argentina. And with increasing swaths of the planet engulfed in climate chaos it has been ensnared in a widening circle of sacrifice zones where residents of impoverished neighbourhoods, cities or regions are largely left to fend for themselves when faced with pollution, climate change related disasters and ecological destruction. This has disproportionately effected immigrants, indigenous peoples and people of colour, but the lines are also being drawn based upon class.

Puerto Rico is another early example of the world to come. In truth, most of the world’s population already lives in some form of this dystopia; but it is the future for the rest of us thanks to the current course of unrestrained production and consumption of fossil fuels and the corruption, greed and apathy of the global elite. They aren’t slouches when it comes to protecting their interests and saving their own hides either. In articles from CNN to The New Yorker, tales of the sprawling estates and luxury bunkers being bought or built by them show how seriously they take the coming shocks to civilization.

So how will the powerful respond to a future of disasters and chaos for essentially anyone who isn’t part of the wealthy elite? The answer can perhaps be gleaned from a tweet President Trump sent out Monday, his first response to the devastation in Puerto Rico a full five days after the hurricane made landfall. He began by saying the island had “massive debt” that is “owed to Wall Street and the banks” and which “must be dealt with.” This was the first priority given, not the welfare of the people or the environment but how much the beleaguered people of Puerto Rico owe to vulture capitalists and the extortionists on Wall Street.

 

It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

 

Kenn Orphan  2017

 

The Real World

                 “You must love nature,” she said as she passed; a stranger noticing me picking up the careless refuse dropped by another who apparently doesn’t.  Her comment strikes me as a somewhat absurd but common sentiment, and it stays with me throughout my hike. Industrial society seems to easily compartmentalize nature as just another interest or a hobby.

I smile at her as I hastily stuff the discarded plastic water bottles and chip bags into a sack I keep in my back pack, while thinking of the engorged body of a dead seabird I saw dissected by a meticulous biologist right in front of me.  Its stomach contents revealing human detritus of all manner, plastic lighters, bottle caps, pens, even a spoon. There are likely hundreds of millions like this one.  It was a surreal sight only later matched in intensity and horror when watching a video of the dissection of a deceased whale whose belly was bursting with tons of plastic bags and other hard synthetic polymers, or the sight of a deformed tortoise whose shell was strangulated throughout its life by a plastic beverage holder.

My enthusiastic, if not misguided, eco-warrior friend chides me. “We’re gonna clean up the oceans,” he says. If only it were up to him. But my mind drifts to the scale of the problem. It lingers on the seemingly unstoppable production of plastics, the enduring legacy of this Age of Petroleum and an enormous fount of wealth for the industries that harvest the earth’s primordial blood. Its not true that plastic lasts forever, but it persists, it morphs into other insidious forms, and as it breaks down it releases its copious stores of toxicity like a trillion, tiny, slow moving oil spills.

                 I wander further catching a glimpse of a dragonfly bouncing on the air between the suns waning rays. Her iridescent wings so thin they appear gossamer. The wind picks up and she is gone, adrift on the cooling late summer breeze. I think of my friend and his tenacity. I utter a silent prayer to the ether for there to be more like him, but as I wander on I come across another heap of styrofoam fast food containers and beer cans, the residue of effortless revelry, stuffed into the crevice of an ancient rock overlooking the ocean. And the truth of our cultural apathy, born of privilege and convenience, caves in my chest.

Perhaps we have evolved to this disconnection. Perhaps the only possible outcome of industrial civilization is estrangement from the natural world from which we emanate. The character of industrialization is, after all, defined by the brutal rape of the natural world. And like all rapists, this one has only contempt and loathing for his victim. She is the constant reminder of his violent crime. But in some deep recess of his mind he knows that she is in no way dependent on him, quite the contrary. The opposite is true.  And the limits of her beneficence are being recklessly pushed.

I stumble through the gathering orange and rose hued light of the evening to the trailhead. I think about rising seas and the land borne plastics and chemicals that will find their way to the ocean after relentless storms and flooding.  I remember a recent study projecting more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.  I think about the Sixth Mass Extinction already well underway. About the human warmed world with acidic oceans, dead zones, algae blooms, blighted forests, collapsing ecosystems and besieged biota of all kind. And I realize even the language we use serves to alienate us from the imperiled world we live in.
                The real world is not the world of constructed oblivion where enormous towers of glass and steel conquer nature.  It isn’t even “responsible growth” or “sustainability.”  Those terms only reinforce a culture of estrangement that obscures the living earth in self serving euphemisms that perpetuate mass delusion and self destruction.  The real world is that of beetles, and bats, and mice, and moths, and mold, and trees, and birds, and grass, and sharks, and coyotes, and frogs, and coral, and worms, and moss, and salmon, and ferns, and snakes, and every other imaginable species now threatened with extinction, including our own. It is of obstructed rivers and polluted streams. Of molested mountaintops, developed coastlines, and felled forests.                 The moon begins to silently hum in its detached, pellucid presence above me. Field mice scurry across my path. Crickets begin their nightly serenades of solicitation unconcerned by my intrusion.  Mosquitoes make clandestine landfalls on my exposed arms and head, foolishly underestimating the racket their wings make in such close proximity to my ear drums.  I think once again about what she said, that passerby on the trail.  “You must love nature.”  

I breathe deeply, sigh, and make my way home through the gathering darkness.

~ Kenn Orphan  2017

Trailhead near Prospect, Nova Scotia, by Kenn Orphan: