Tag Archives: consumerism

Unraveling the Net that Holds Us

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” – John Muir

Web  Getty Images

     Standing on the precipice of the Sixth Mass Extinction I am reminded that the ironic Latin meaning of homo sapiens is “wise man.” But in a cemetery crowded with the bones of countless species, I am left with little room to marvel at our cleverness. Modern civilization has been driven toward its inevitable end in ecocide, yet even in the deafening collapse unfolding, the high priests of industry persist in manufacturing the illusion of endless consumption. Indeed, they have crafted such an intricate chimera that it appears that even they are no longer able to discern fact from fiction. But nature is unbound by our fantasies.

Seal Lion  Coast of San Diego California  Photo by Kyle McBurnie

In the West the majority of us have been robbed of our agency save the power of how much legal tender we possess. And when that has been depleted, we are robbed of our very humanity. But, as in Plato’s cave, most of us are distracted by shadows and enslaved by a system that we are told is indispensable. Economic neoliberalism, which Wikipedia defines as “privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy”  is the last phase of capitalism, and it is also the most cruel. Under its dictates the ownership class has sanctified plunder as a virtue, and codified poverty as a grave sin with no redemption offered to the weakest among us. Nature has no value to it unless it can be packaged and sold.

Photo Credit All Creatures

Much of the food we eat are sentient beings born into death camps where they are sentenced to a life of cruelty and terror. Our clothing is little more than sweatshop bandages masking wounds of unspeakable inhumanity. Our homes are over-sized while huge swaths of our population freeze on city streets; and they are carved out of sanctuaries that were once diverse communities thriving with countless species. “Growth and sustainability” is the resounding chorus of the privileged few, even though what it really means is growing and sustaining the death machine that is rapaciously feeding on countless species and millions of people around the world. We fill our shopping carts with objects produced out of devastation and exploitation. And with a jingle, we are sent on our way.  Meanwhile mega-cities like Sao Paulo are literally drying up, an intractable drought is ravaging the American southwest, and India and Pakistan swing from killing heatwaves to drowning deluges within weeks of each other.

New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

A system like this inevitably leads to annihilation. But a society unwilling to face this and conditioned to think of itself as “exceptional” will cling to myths about Bronze Age heroes. It will be unable to distinguish between the shadows in the cave and light from the surface, and retreat into ever more banal, humiliating and sadistic forms of entertainment. It will grow paranoid about the foreigner or the ‘other’ and be unable to separate truth from illusion. It will render invisible the suffering of the weak while it deifies the celebrity class. It will react with violent denialism and embrace apocalyptic answers as the catastrophes unfold. And its leaders will exert every barbaric method available to them to maintain their seat at the top of a crumbling heap.

Extinction Graveyard Credit Creative Commons Bart Heird

If one day an archeologist of some wiser species uncovers this cemetery, our species will be the only one without a tombstone, surrounded by countless species that most of us in the Western world have labeled disposable. And perhaps that is fitting since, for the vast majority of them, we were the careless cause of their demise. We are ferociously pulling at nature, and in the process we are rapidly unraveling the net that holds us.  Nature will undoubtedly reweave its net with or without us.  If it breaks can our species avoid extinction when we land?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  But if most of us do not even recognize that we rest atop a grand and wondrous net of life in the first place, the odds are stacked against it.

tree of-life  Photo Credit Shuttershock

“We did not weave the web of life, we are merely strands in it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.” ― Chief Seattle (attributed).

Kenn Orphan  2015

Hospice as an Answer to Ecocide

     When I started working with the terminally ill over 20 years ago I had not yet made the connection between the hospice approach to human suffering at the end of life and that of our embattled and dying ecosystem. I first encountered the idea of viewing the earth and all who inhabit it on hospice after reading The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. I came to see the same patterns of misery, denial, angst, terror, empathy, alienation and actualization that define our own personal response to grief mirrored in our collective condition as a species in a myriad of species facing their end.  And I believe this model is the best response to the catastrophe of climate change, mass species extinction and the self-destructive nature of industrial civilization.

Photographer Adnan Abidi Reuters

     Wikipedia defines hospice as “a type of care and philosophy of care that focuses on the palliation of a chronically ill, terminally ill or seriously ill patient’s pain and symptoms, and attending to their emotional and spiritual needs.” It is a philosophy that stands in stark contrast to the current models addressing (or not) the coming catastrophe.  Sadly, hospice continues to be an alien concept in much of modern western medicine, the goal being instead to save the patient through aggressive measures, and without pause.  Hospice is still largely viewed in a defeatist light.  To many, it is seen as “giving up.”  Many people still refer to someone who has died of cancer as “losing their battle.”  And the myth that a hospice is still simply a place to go die, as in the Medieval age, endures in popular culture. But to most of those who have consciously chosen hospice when they face a limited future, their experience has nothing to do with giving up.  Instead, they have decided that they wish to use what time they have left to pursue the best aspects of what it is to be alive in the first place.

Medieval Hospice Artist Robert Alan Thom

     To the person who has realized that their time ahead may be short, materialism, popularity, money, and power usually fall by the wayside. In their place, the nurturing of relationships, connection with nature, pursuit of one’s deepest dreams, celebration of imagination, and spiritual fulfillment become more urgent. Forgiveness and mercy provide a road to healing, and the life we are fortunate to have left becomes infinitely more meaningful and precious.  Society is a mirror of the individual psyche; and when faced with grave news both will react with the same stages of grief outlined by the pioneering psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.   Like the feedback loops of climate change, none of this is linear. All of these stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, are interchangeable and fluid. And each serves an important purpose for protecting the psyche. But the paralysis we are at now as a society in facing our collective future will only create more misery and suffering as the clock ticks on.

Consumerism MK Feeney

In its unending quest to dominate and profit from nature, Western society has divorced itself from the sacred.  It has created a civilization that is dependent upon the liquified remains of a distant past buried deep in the earth’s crust, and on the value of intangible digits that float between banks and corporations.  It relies on avarice and communicates with violence.  And in the wake of this ultimately self-destructive obsession, the nature of which it springs from and which ultimately sustains its existence, is decimated, reduced to rubble and cast aside. The narcissistic impulse of the consumer driven economy cannot view nature, and the myriad of other life forms that inhabit its realm, as anything but soulless objects for exploitation and profit.  Indeed, it is this disconnect that has lead us to the Anthropocene epoch, or age of homo sapiens, the Sixth Mass Extinction, and to the precipice of omnicide we stand at now.

Photo Jo Christian Oterhals

Great Hammerhead in Bimini Bahamas Photo by Laura Rock

     The hospice model provides a framework for grappling with the overwhelming ecocide unfolding before us, and the nightmarish landscape of mindless consumerism.  It speaks the language of kindness, mercy and compassion to a world glaringly bereft of all three.  It generously applies a healing balm to the wounds inflicted by injustice, cruelty and war.   At a time where countless species are being condemned to the halls of extinction each day, and where climate chaos is accelerating, the compassionate realism of hospice, which embraces every dimension of healing, presents humanity with the best hope we have left to cherish and fiercely preserve all that is precious on this life drenched planet.  And it reclaims our ancestral heritage; when we once knew what it was like to look up in awe at the night sky and realize we live adrift in an ocean of stars, and appreciate just how marvelous the improbability of life itself really is.

Photographer Richard Gottardo

Kenn Orphan  2015

An Economy of Cruelty

     In America, sadism towards the most vulnerable and disenfranchised has become normative. From reality and talk shows, to corporate news broadcasts, to political speeches, the message could not be more clear. If you are poor, a person of color, a woman, elderly, non-Christian, an immigrant, a refugee from one of America’s imperialistic wars, a prisoner, a user of illegal drugs, a veteran with PTSD, homeless, disabled or gender or heterosexually non-conforming, you and you alone are responsible for the misery you must endure. The established institutions of society, and by definition the powerful, are let off the hook; and the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality is used as a battering ram to pulverize those viewed as weak or defective.  The hyper-masculine mantra of “personal responsibility” has permeated virtually every medium and institution, from education to public policy to religion to healthcare and employment.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan Source Getty ImagesThis can be attributed to the neoliberal economic policies celebrated by Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, and ensconced into the American economic landscape by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in the latter part of the 20th century.  Wikipedia defines neoliberalism as “privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy,” but it can more accurately be defined as the last and most savage form of feudalistic capitalism.  These policies have metastasized into a monster of authoritarian class rule in the first part of this century, with the natural environment and the poor suffering in its wake. The misanthropic rambling of Ayn Rand, the patron saint of neoliberal capitalism, is the liturgy of the current economic order, and of all domestic and foreign policies that emanate from Washington and Wall Street.

Homeless in America Associated PressAccess to healthcare, or the lack of it, is perhaps the most emblematic of this culture of cruelty.  When ordinary Americans become gravely ill or injured the punishment is severe. Health is commensurate with wealth in the empire, and access to treatment, or even prevention, comes at a price too steep for most to bear. Millions of American families go bankrupt, or lose their homes, or jobs each year simply due to one, serious accident or health crisis. Many elderly are forced to make impossible choices between food and medicine thanks to the gutting of Medicare.

The Affordable Care Act was offered to the American public as a solution to this utterly inhuman system, but it is clear that the primary objective of its policies was to pad the pockets of the insurance industry and Big Pharma. It placates an intolerable situation by separating Americans into categories of the deserving and the undeserving. Its stopgap measures merely infuriate mean spirited, affluent conservatives who blither on about socialism, even though it bares no resemblance to this ideology in the least. And it soothes the consciences of the liberal class, who have little taste for a revolution that would upend their comfortable lives.

Payday Loans and Liquor Source Stock FootageA similar scenario plays out when it comes to education. Public schools continue to be under constant fire from the warriors of privatization. Higher education has become all but impossible for the vast swath of young people caught in neighborhoods that have been segregated from the larger society, and sacrificed on the alter of neoliberal capitalism. Exorbitant cost and life crushing debt create an insurmountable barrier, and for-profit colleges and universities offer little in the way of actual career advancement. Young people who are caught up in this machine are encouraged to become mere cogs without agency or thought; or to disappear from society’s collective gaze completely.

The Us Prison Industrial Complex Source Impact Press

Many are churned up in the private prison system, which has seen record profits in recent years.  A free source of labor is provided thanks to the venomous anti-immigrant fervor and the racist “War on Drugs.”  With few, if any, options open to some, military service becomes the only economically viable option.  In a cruel feat of irony, they are forced to defend the very same economic interests of America’s predatory capitalist oligarchy that keep them disenfranchised and indebted.  Of course, the empire has other ways of describing this.

President Clinton And President George W. Bush Launch Presidential Leadership Scholars Program

The use of euphemisms by the political power class evince the disconnect they have with ordinary Americans.  In the crumbling days of the American empire these euphemisms are becoming increasingly preposterous, but the inability of the plutocracy to recognize their absurdity is even more awe inspiring. They employ them whenever the malignancy of their behavior becomes too difficult to completely obscure, even from a sycophantic press. In their parlance, unregulated development becomes “sustainable growth,” the gutting of the social safety net and the criminalization of poverty becomes “austerity,” torture becomes “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and the cancerous growth of the police/prison/surveillance state becomes “national security considerations.”

Within their ranks, humor is defined by cruelty and humiliation. It allows for Presidents to joke openly about drone bombing or to fill well heeled banquet halls with raucous laughter over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, that enabled the plunder and occupation of an entire nation. A presidential ‘Kill List’ that targets individuals for assassination, or the lies told that cost hundreds of thousands of civilians their lives, and displaced millions more, become punchlines that bring the house down among their peers. This language informs and guides corporate media and entertainment, and it has become infused into government policies and the collective, popular culture.  It has created an echo chamber where the current system, no matter how much misery it produces or how fetid and suppurative it has become, can continue with very little, if any, resistance.

Eric Thayer Reuters

The plutocratic elite have constructed an elaborate system of protections for their wealth and power, and on its current trajectory the burgeoning police/prison/surveillance state today is primed to become the gulag state tomorrow. Stoking the flames of racial animus and fear of the other are the tools that they employ to buy them more time. This is unfortunately successful in certain groups where reactionary prejudice and paranoid suspicion of any kind of social contract is foundational to their existence.  But violence is the only currency that the power class will use when the condescending placation of the unending injustices they mete out begin to ring hollow with the broader public.

Gated Community Stock FootageIn truth, the powerful are frightened. They sit atop trillions of dollars of monetary wealth, yet deep down many of them must know that this is meaningless on a planet with dwindling resources such as clean water and viable top soil, and in a climate that grows angrier by the day. No gated community can shield them from the calamity of systemic collapse, but unending wealth accumulation at the expense of billions of people, countless species, and the ecosystems we all rely upon is the only paradigm they understand.

Source Guardian

Because of their rapacious greed, all life on earth is now imperiled. Climate change is morphing into climate chaos. Nuclear war continues to menace. And the miasma of industrial civilization is now beginning to engulf even the most pristine of earth’s last sanctuaries. Forged in the tar-drenched quicksand of fossil fuels, the pillars of industrial society are beginning to sway and buckle. Russia, China and the West continue to flirt with war over the last remaining drops of oil. In a melting Arctic ocean they only see self-interest and opportunity,

The church of neoliberalism cannot learn any other hymn except “grow the economy,” and it sees no difference between east or west. Of course, the consequences of this cupidity and avarice are becoming more apparent with each passing day. Record after record continues to be broken each month as the temperature rises and weather patterns begin to shift dramatically. The methane time bomb in Siberia may be closer than ever to exploding; and species extinction is accelerating, with our own on the list.  All things considered, it has become undeniably apparent that the current economic system of industrial civilization, which is based on limitless consumption with finite resources, is a death sentence for all life on the planet, including Homo sapiens.

Source Vancouver Media Co Op

The human community, along with countless other species we share this planet with, has been and continues to be assaulted by the dictates of neoliberal capitalism which defines the world, and all of its inhabitants, as mere commodities.  It has been demeaned by being labelled consumers, rather than citizens; and the world in which we live has been bar-coded for convenient exploitation and plunder.  Yet still it persists.  Disenfranchised neighborhoods continue to band together to fight police brutality and racism.  Indigenous peoples continue to block the Keystone Pipeline.  Social movements that defend the earth or the most vulnerable among us may be co-opted or obscured, but their moral imperatives continue to ring true, and the people continue to rally in the face of state violence and repression.

The rejection of the current paradigm of alienation and objectification is essential to reclaiming our collective identity and agency.  And although defiance to its cruelty, rejection of its dehumanization, and the embrace of solidarity, will not spare us from all that is ahead, the alternative would be the acceptance of tyranny, and far more perilous to comprehend.

Kenn Orphan  2015

Before the Bulldozers Arrive

When I was a boy my family would travel to Nova Scotia to visit my grandmother.  She lived on an island off the coast that was close enough to get to by ferry in an hour, yet far enough away from “civilization” that one could feel happily secluded from its distractions and trappings.  A breeze fresh with sea salt and pine off the bay would hurry me along dirt roads that led to no where. Deep in the wood I would be gently reminded of the ocean around me on all sides by the distant ping of a buoy.  The pleasures there were simple, yet profoundly rich.  Coming from New York I reveled in this solitude and natural wonder. My grandmother’s porch let out onto a beach strewn with round rocks and seaweed, and the backdoor opened onto a wood thick with pine and carpeted with moss. It was a land that seemed both exotically foreign and warmly familiar. I would spend my days going back and forth to each of these magical places with only short pit stops for an ice cream or a can of pop.

A forest in Nova Scotia The Chronicle Herald

I am often reminded of these ethereal experiences when I have the good fortune to be in some place wild. I have been lucky to have hiked through jungles in Central America and across mountain ranges in the American west. I have been awed by the endless span of the desert and the billions, upon billions of stars that filled moonless nights. But sadly these moments have become mere punctuations in my life as adulthood has taken me through the underbelly of “civilization” and I struggle to breath in its plastic emptiness. It has become painful to see wildlife too close to the burgeoning sprawl, because I know that it will soon be trampled under the busy feet of progress, bulldozed into heaps of wood and entombed in concrete, glass and steel.

Industrial civilization, with its petro-economy, doomed the wilds of the earth centuries ago. Its cancerous penchant for endless growth and its disease of cupidity and avarice have commodified and butchered the natural world of which we are all born.  Consumer capitalism has become the religion of the 21st century.  Its liturgy of “market driven free trade” views the earth as an exploitable object and human beings as valuable only in terms of their material wealth. There is no room for the sacredness of the wild.  Cloaked in garments of moral piety, the priests of Wall Street hold the ultimate power over all life on the planet.  Their eyes may have been blotted out by greed, but their hands still grope feverishly for the next spoil.  Meanwhile the oceans acidify and the permafrost is no longer permanent as it thaws rapidly and releases tons of methane, accelerating the warming of the climate. Despite the overwhelming evidence, extraction of fossil fuels has only increased.  The melting Arctic ocean has become a playground for the petro-industry and the bloated military that protects their interests. They are not worried about a warming planet or dancing perilously close to another world war. They are busy piercing the surface of our fragile world like rapacious vampires that can never seem to draw enough of the earth’s blood to sate their appetite.

Credit S Morgan Alamy Nature

Mountaintop Removal in the Sierras source NRDC

Watching the storms grow on the horizon can fill one with dread in those moments where denial is not at work. There is no where on this earth that industrial civilization has not touched. Plastic debris fills its oceans, industrial chemicals saturate its already diminished soil, and the air has become the repository for the poisonous byproducts of its feckless consumption. Its economic ideology has created an ownership class that has divided the world map into farms for its own wealth acquisition. It expands like bacteria engulfing what was once lush fields, meadows and woods. It crushes the powerless of foreign nations, colonizes their land and enslaves them in endless servitude for the perpetuation of its monstrous system. It scrapes away the tops of ancient mountains for minutes of electrical power.

Urban Sprawl in Virginia Sarah Leen

The insanity that is industrial civilization was born of imperialism. Materialistic ideas of fortune became the priority of the aristocracy, and so the village and the community were sacrificed for the promise of more stuff. Petro-chemicals fueled the Green Revolution, where agriculture was industrialized on a massive scale. It dressed up the drive for these things in the guise of good intentions. Feeding the hungry became its pious mantra, even though the profit based economy was its true engine. Neoliberal capitalism, defined as “privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector,” emerged from the shadows of imperialistic plunder.  It rendered vast swaths of the earth open for boundless exploitation by the wealthy elite; and sentenced entire populations of indigenous people to a life of alienation, debt slavery and urban poverty.

Amazonas_floating_village,_Iquitos,_Photo_by_Sascha_Grabow

There is no political will among the elites to acknowledge, much less address, the coming collapse that all of this has spawned.   Multinational corporations and banks that control the world economy (and thus the world) would not tolerate a loss in their already over the top profits that would come as a result of any meaningful reform. “The economy must grow” is their unassailable chorus; and their existence, however fleeting, is dependent upon the continued, systematic rape of the natural world.   The wilds be damned.

To be sure, I have no answer to the conundrum of industrial civilization. In addition to being a product of it, I am also a beneficiary of its plunder by virtue of when and where I was born. I have not fled to the last remaining wilderness from where I can pontificate beyond reproach.  I understand how easy it is to become paralyzed by the spectacle of its dazzling, self-destructive decadence. But, by all accounts, it appears to be in its final act with its curtain call being the demise of countless species, including our own.

David McNew AFP Getty Images

In my childhood wildlife seemed to be forever and untouchable. The woods, the meadows and the sea appeared to me to be endless and invincible. I could walk under the canopy of trees and never hear a plane or smell petrol or run across another soul for hours on end. Now that I am grown I see that all of it is as fragile as glass. I am beginning to grasp just how dire the situation really is and, despite the false hope that the environmental movement peddles, there are no viable solutions to address what lies ahead, save the immediate cessation of fossil fuels and of industrial society itself. Indeed, on our current trajectory we appear to be headed for a world more like Venus than the lush, green earth we have been privileged with. But despite all of this, there are still forests unfelled and fields untilled to walk through, and I hope that this realization will cause me to have more reverence for the wilds that are left and time to stand in awe of their sacredness…

before the bulldozers arrive.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(For photo credit and/or source click on photograph.)

Bearing Witness

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

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

Jonathon Blair - Copy

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

Great Hammerhead in Bimini Bahamas Photo by Laura Rock

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

I Shop Therefore I Am

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

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

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

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

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

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

cows at a factory farm

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

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

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

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

sea turtle

(photo: Getty Images)

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

Kenn Orphan  2014

Humanity’s Epitaph

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

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

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

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

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

US-CLIMATE-DEMO
(photo: Associated Press)

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

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

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

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

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

Kenn Orphan  2014

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

Self Destruction Writ Large

Polar bear on dwindling Arctic ice sheet  PA     Recently, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, one of the most conservative, scientific/political organizations, issued its most dire report to date.  It warned that climate change will have “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” in coming decades.  It goes on to say that “the risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases.”   Unknown to most of the public is that this panel is very conservative and years behind reality in its assessments.  Their reports are also subject to being watered down for geopolitical and economic reasons.  As a UN body, the IPCC responds to its masters.  And, like the World Bank, they follow the dictates of neoliberal capitalism.  The common definition of neoliberalism, the dominant geopolitical force of our age,  refers to “economic liberalization, privatization, free trade, open markets, deregulation, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy.”

Popular Resistance

Economic neoliberalism attaches a monetary value to everything that exists and, in doing so, catastrophically demeans that value, transforming it into something that is easily disposable.  It commodifies the very building blocks of life.  It dismantles the commons by enforcing private ownership.  It replaces citizenship with consumerism.  It hustles us toward extinction and ecocide with a jingle in our heads and a shopping bag in our hand.  It endorses endless war, endless distraction and the rape of the natural world, because these are the only things that will sustain its existence.  It is self destruction, writ large.

Dying forests in the Northern Rockies  NRDC

The malignant tide that brought us to this place is rising fast.  Centuries of plunder and exploitation are rendering the oceans and the planet barren and fallow.  Soon it will be impossible for any human being to traverse this landscape unsullied, where the snares of a beleaguered ecosystem are ubiquitous, the currency of the state is violence, and the native tongue of its leaders is cruelty.  In fact, the established plutocratic class is getting nervous.  They do not have a plan outside of maintaining their current campaigns of plunder, distracting the public, and constructing a police state to insure their power and wealth remain intact.  So it is a fair assumption that their well deserved paranoia will spark even more heavy handed repression and violence.

Protest in Chile  Roar Magazine

But more people are beginning to shake off the shackles of endless fear mongering and war drumming imposed on them from the powers that be.  More are beginning to tire of the vapid celebrity worship, the car-wrecks of cruel humiliation that pass as entertainment, and the empty promises of fulfillment and wholeness that feckless cupidity and consumerism offer.  More are beginning to see through the lies.

Vigil in Bangalore

 It is unclear if our species will weather the coming storms, droughts, social unrest, police state violence, corporate plunder and threat of nuclear war.   Indeed our right to go on is questionable given our long history of horrific treatment of the most vulnerable among us, and the countless species with whom we share this planet.  But one thing is certain; no one will be able to take this journey unmolested.  Even as it is being decimated, we are all inextricably connected to this marvelous world.  And perhaps, with that in mind, we can turn away from the self-indulgent madness of our time and appreciate what is left and realize just how good we had it.

Kenn Orphan  2014

The Earth and Her Raging Fever

Alberta Tar Sands were once pristine boreal forests      From a months worth of rain falling in a matter of hours, to wildfires devouring the lush rainforests and the icy Arctic tundra, we are witnessing records being broken one after another with each passing day.  One does not need to be a scientist to see a shocking increase of extreme weather events.  Yet, still, denialism persists.  “We must grow the economy!”  “Drill, baby drill!”  It is madness on an epic scale.

The earth doesn’t care about our economy.  She has no use for our political protestations either.  She responds only to our folly.  And she is groaning from the injuries we have inflicted on her.  She has a fever; and if she does not treat it soon the results will prove dire for her future.

Tar Sands at night  Photographer Garth LenzNo greater visual exists to demonstrate her malady than the Alberta Tar Sands.  It is a blight that covers an area the size of Florida and can be seen from space.  It is a cancerous tumor, a melanoma on the skin of the earth that continues to grow and metastasize, spewing its noxious breath into the atmosphere while being fueled by the fallacious myth of infinite growth on a finite planet.

The West continues to be mired in a corporate fantasy world, drowning as we toast our good fortune. All the while the real world, that every species relies on for sustenance and survival, is withering and suffocating before our eyes. Those who call attention to the ecocide are often maligned and marginalized, living as exiles from the Kingdom of Eternal Optimism.  The oceans are acidifying, intractable drought threatens our food and water supply, floods threaten our cities.  We are facing extinction; not just of countless other species but of our own.  Yet there is little to no alarm or pause from the mass media and popular culture.

Pristine Alberta boreal forest  National GeographicWe may be alone in this universe, but it is unlikely.  Perhaps it is filled with other species who made it as far as we did and survived or even thrived.  Or perhaps it is littered with the bones of long dead societies who had similar aspirations.  We may never know.  What we do know is this, the planet that we live on is rapidly changing before our eyes.  The earth, our only home, has a raging fever.  And she will not wait for our over indulgent deliberations.  Her prognosis is good though.  She is going to survive her disease.  For humanity, however, it isn’t looking so good.

Kenn Orphan   2014

Photo Credits:

Alberta Tar Sands, once pristine boreal forest. Photographer Peter Essick

Alberta Tar Sands at night.  Photographer Garth Lenz

Pristine Alberta boreal forest before destruction/National Geographic

They are Preparing, and We Should Too.

FERGUSON MISSOURI     The militaristic crackdown on largely peaceful protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, this past summer, following the shooting death of an unarmed black youth should not be seen as an anomaly.  In fact, American police forces have been steadily militarized over the past decade by the Pentagon, which according to a recent report has made it a priority to address the risks of social unrest that will undoubtedly arise as climate change worsens. It would be supremely naive to think their preparations are concerned with community development, supplying adequate resources or social justice.  To be sure their approach will be in line with their history and will be about social control and the suppression of dissent.

Boston Lockdown

Americans got a taste of this approach during the lock down of Boston last year in the search for the alleged perpetrator of the Boston Marathon bombing.  For the first time in this century an entire American city was placed under what could accurately be defined as a type of martial law.  While this may have been voluntary, few would deny that defying the lock down would have been met with severe consequences.  Americans saw a major US city transform into something that resembled the streets of Grozny or Sarajevo.  Tanks rolled down leafy New England streets.  Police sharpshooters trained their sights on picket fenced, saltbox houses.  Families were marched out of their living rooms and down the sidewalks with hands plastered to their heads.  And all of this proceeded with nary a protest or whimper from the mainstream media.  On the contrary, this over the top spectacle garnered praise from politicians and reporters alike.  And after it was over many in the public lined the streets to thank a jackbooted police force, even though the alleged terrorist was discovered by a civilian.

Crop Failure in California due to drought  Photo Getty Images

America is experiencing an intractable drought across much of the southwest.  In the northeast and west, catastrophic flooding and record rainfall is fast becoming the norm.  In the mid-west the Ogallala aquifer, the dominant source of water for the country’s agriculture, is being fast depleted.  And in the west the Colorado River which supplies tens of millions of people with drinking water is beginning to show a severe slowdown.  With such extremes comes crop failure, water shortages and species extinction. Many scientists are also deeply worried that the methane clathrate gun has been fired triggering runaway climate change.  And regardless of anti-science politicians who are on the dole of the fossil fuel industry, the Pentagon is taking all of this very seriously.
Arctic methane

With the collapse of essential services and the failure of leadership to mitigate the damage, public anger will undoubtedly rise. It is within this kind of perfect storm that atrocities are often committed and tyrannies are frequently born.  The Pentagon and other powerful government agencies have demonstrated time after time that their first priority is to protect corporate interests.  Understanding all of this is crucial to facing what may be on the horizon. Maintaining an independent media is key to avoiding the pitfalls of mass paranoia, scapegoating and divide and conquer strategies that the corporate media is expert at. And it is only through grassroots community organizing and non-violent protest that ordinary people can find the leverage needed to hold the established power class accountable and at bay, and assert the innate dignity of all human beings even in the midst of calamity.

Officials observe indigenous people protesting in Brazil

The Pentagon’s approach for dealing with the dire times that lie ahead is nothing less than terrifying.  Social control appears to be their goal.  Violence seems to be their method.  And they have all the equipment needed to enforce their plan.  Peaceful resistance and solidarity is the only viable response ordinary people have.

They are preparing.  And we should too.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(Photo on top is of an unarmed protestor in Ferguson Missouri facing a militarized police force/AP)

Miltarism: an Ideology of Death

Guernica by Pablo Picasso 1937

“Militarism has been by far the commonest cause of the breakdown of civilizations. The single art of war makes progress at the expense of all the arts of peace.” – Arnold J. Toynbee

Pablo Picasso’s Guernica depicts the tragic results of militarism. In this epic painting he captured the horror suffered by the residents of a small village in the Basque countryside, bombed mercilessly into ruins. It is a powerful display of the reality of war in that it shows the victims are disproportionately civilians, animals and the earth itself.

Since World War II more civilians have been killed in armed conflict, despite having protection under international law. Americans have largely been shielded from the atrocity that is war. We do not see the bodies of children blown apart by US drone strikes or the humiliation and terror that comes from being occupied by a foreign army. It is because of this ignorance that militarism has flourished.

Militarism is the aggressive reply to every social problem. It is extremely profitable and therefore a perfect partner of capitalism. Its merchants have been successful in convincing the public over and over to believe the insane contradiction of war bringing peace, bombs bringing democracy and occupation bringing justice. They are masters at massaging our innate fears, those fears that produce the most visceral responses to manufactured illusions of imminent danger.

The powerful pull out the most primitive emotional reactions in us, responses we developed in ancient fields when we needed to escape the very real predators that lurked around us throughout the long history of our evolutionary heritage. They stoke primal paranoia of the other and encourage scapegoating as a means of alleviating the anxiety associated with the unknown and the responsibility of ethical conscience. They distract us from their malfeasance. They provoke rage at imaginary threats against the homeland, the religion, the tribe. In essence, they manufacture the belief that militarism is inevitable, even desirable.

The boogieman needed to maintain militarism changes faces, but they are almost always two-dimensional figures whose evil is absolute. Whether they be communists or Islamists, the pretext is always the same; they are cast as an immediate threat to western civilization and must be dealt with in the most violent way possible. Unsurprisingly, this ideology has wreaked havoc around the world.

Decades of neoliberal economic policies, arms deals, military coups, toppling of democratically elected governments, and the support of practically every despotic and corrupt regime the world has ever known has created a 21st century map of the world that contains more human caused catastrophes than it does countries. This long and bloody history of exploitation has enabled fanatical or extremist movements, loosely based on religion, to sweep entire regions. It has deftly created them with each new massacre and atrocity borne as a gruesome trophy to its fury.

But the mayhem abroad inevitably returns home. Militaristic societies create a machine that eventually consumes them from the inside. They lurch towards self-destruction because they feed on the pillars that support them. The arts, humanities, and science all become casualties of their rapacious appetite for growth. Jingoism replaces critical thinking. Infrastructure crumbles and the social safety net is dismantled. The well being of their citizens is reduced to a hollow promise of protection against an imaginary enemy, while the real needs and dangers are ignored. Civil rights and liberties become nuisances that get in the way of the machine, and are therefore crushed.

Militarism is the religion of America. It is the cornerstone of our culture and the currency with which the state interacts with its citizens as well as its neighbors. It is the language mass media uses in its denigration of the poor, the immigrant and the downtrodden. It is the method used to address all forms of crime. It is the very core of our economic system, based upon the rape of the natural world and the exploitation of the weakest among us. And it is the wall that prevents us from achieving lasting peace and true justice.

Picasso’s Guernica serves not only as a warning, but also as a prediction. His painting underscores the tragic futility of militarism and how it always targets the most vulnerable. It is an ideology of death that builds nothing and takes everything. It is a monster that feeds off fear and, sadly at the beginning of the 21st century, shows no sign of slowing down.

Kenn Orphan  2014

Massacre in Korea (1951) 60 x 115 cm / 23.6 x 45.3in $340 $220 Orig size 109 x 209 cm / 42.91 x 82.3in.