Tag Archives: ecocide

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

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

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
 

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:

 

Jellyfish Chips and Making Biosphere Collapse Trendy

In a recent puff piece by National Public Radio (USA), Danish journalist Sidsel Overgaard gushed over an upcoming trend for exuberant foodies: “jellyfish chips.”  Overgaard extolled them as an answer to falling fish stocks and the concomitant explosion of jellyfish blooms around the planet thanks to global warming.  Puerile?  Perhaps.  But the normalization of climate change and our existential crisis has become all too common in recent years.  And the trend to make it profitable is even more disturbing.

It may be a symptom of oversimplification and the pervasive nonsense of an aggressive, irrational and willfully blind optimism; or a byproduct of the corporate mindset and the repressed angst that accompanies late stage capitalism. But the curse of positive thinking has aided in creating huge blind spots that allow us to ignore the impending collapse of the biosphere that sustains us all.  It is not to say that we should all be pessimists of course. Far from it. But ignoring reality or greenwashing it with trendy alternatives will not make the looming catastrophe vanish either.

 

The prevailing and dominant economic model based upon industrial scale consumption and neoliberal (free market) capitalism has ushered in an age where when one species is decimated another, “previously less desirable,” one is turned to for unbridled exploitation. Haddock, cod and tuna were ruthlessly harvested until their numbers crashed catastrophically, so fish like farmed tilapia were “up marketed” to replace them. And this is not only true of fish populations.  Forests and farms have also suffered from insatiable plunder of more profitable timber or the “monoculturing” of crops.

Industrial scale technology fed the all consuming, insatiable monster of global capitalism.  Today all life is being rapidly commodified for fast profit and easy disposal.  But this scale of industry demands the burning of the earth’s deadly, primordial blood and a livable climate can only withstand so much.  Global biodiversity is now in a staggering state of free fall, out doing the speed of the previous five mass extinction events in the earth’s geologic history.  Climate change is wreaking havoc on the world’s oceans.  Acidification, coral bleaching, plastic pollution, dead zones, toxic and radioactive chemicals are all contributing to the mass extinction of scores of fish species and other marine life.  It is a human driven carnage that is off the scale.

 

But don’t worry. According to some enthusiastic foodies we’ll have tons of jellyfish chips to feast on in hip bistros when every other lifeform in the sea is gone forever.

Kenn Orphan  2017

A Message to the Fragile Heart

Since the recent death of the prolific singer/songwriter Chester Bennington I have seen the usual spat of nasty or unfeeling comments regarding those who take their own lives.  They may be well meaning, but some have said “how selfish” or “cowardly” they think he was. Others ask how a person who takes their life could ignore the pain it causes their family friends and loved ones.  Anyone who has been in these dark valleys in their lives or have gone through them with someone they love know all too well that it isn’t that simple.

 

Depression, loss, mental illness and addiction are not phantoms.  They don’t vanish at the mention of a simple platitude.  And well meaning bromides aside, we live in an age where militaristic chauvanism still dominates. We are inundated daily in hyper-masculine jingoism which eagerly brands anyone who challenges the dominant, patriarchal culture with derisive labels like “snowflake.”   Girls and women face especially hard treatment when faced with a constant barrage of misogynistic criticism and expectations related to how they look, act and think.  But this culture can also be very difficult for boys and men struggling with imposed stoicism regardless of their sexuality or gender identity.

Add to this a profoundly sick societal paradigm where money dictates, racism persists, the poor, disabled or elderly are invisible, politics is a spectacle, news is entertainment (and vice versa) and the living earth is being relentlessly decimated thanks to war, greed and mindless consumerism.  You get a good idea of how any fragile heart can break into pieces.

 

I don’t know very much about Chester Bennington’s life or the demons he wrestled with.  I don’t know what eventually caused him to go over that ledge.  But I understand what it feels like to be on one.  I know the desperation, the isolation and the panic that can flood one’s mind.  The late novelist David Foster Wallace summed it up pretty well when he described it:

 

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

 

The world we walk through is one of crushing cruelty.  It is full of destruction, misery and pain. Exploitation of the powerless often appears to be the law of the land with alienation, demoralization and despair the result.  It is a world that will gleefully cut your heart into shards especially when you show it that you care.

For the fragile heart there is no preventing this from happening except by hardening it.  The latter may protect you from unpleasant feelings for a time.  It may give you the facade of strength and detachment. But it will surely lead you to a life of bitterness and indifference ending in a soulless death.  Even though it is fraught with great danger, it is only in its brokenness that the heart has a chance of experiencing love and knowing joy.  And in doing this it opens up a greater possibility for healing the world you inhabit.

 

So if you are in possession of one this message is for you.  There is a big lie that is told all too often.  It’s that the fragile heart is either weak, useless or cowardly.  On the contrary; it is none of those things.  It is, in fact, the greatest quality our species has ever had.  In the midst of violence, avarice, cruelty, oppression and ecocide it is a clarion call for sanity.  Its fragility challenges the lie that “might makes right.”  Every time it breaks it causes a crack in the wall between this world and the one that should be.  One where unshackled joy and fearless love abound.   It is the only thing that makes solidarity with one another possible, and in the end the only adventure worth taking.

 

 

Kenn Orphan 2017

 

 

If you or a loved one are contemplating suicide or are struggling with depression, anxiety or addiction please know that there are many people who care.  Help is available.

 

https://www.suicideprevention.ca/

 

Title painting credit is “Song of Songs” by Marc Chagall.

The Insatiable Lust for Plunder

“Rocky Mountain Landscape” by Albert Bierstadt (January 7, 1830 – February 18, 1902), oil on canvas.

Like many of his colleagues Albert Bierstadt was captivated and awed by the beauty of the North American continent. He painted grand and sweeping scenes of the American west at a time when little was known about it to European Americans except in rumour.  His use of light and space thrusts us into the sphere of the transcendent splendor of nature and its power.

Of course Native Americans knew of this beauty for many centuries prior to colonialism. They revered it as sacred, and understood that human beings and nature were not separate entities but were one in the same whose identity and destiny were inextricably linked.  Today much of that land has be despoiled or is imperiled by industry and development.  Protected areas are increasingly hemmed in by the interests of corporations, petroleum companies and mining, creating islands of besieged wildlife.

The battle for these last remaining lands has never ceased.  The capitalist robber barons of the 21st century have never sated their lust for plunder, and Donald Trump’s executive order attempting to rescind national monuments is a living example of that sad fact.  One might wonder what someone like Bierstadt, or his contemporaries in the Hudson River School, would have thought about the reckless and insane drive to rid the continent of its last remaining sanctuaries for wildlife.  But looking at this painting it isn’t too difficult to imagine the sorrow he would have felt.

 

Kenn Orphan  2917

The Ghosts That Roam Among Us

To many of us who live near to nature the idea of ghosts is far from fantasy.  The concept is neither childish nor macabre.  We commune with our ghosts and respect them.  They are the embodiment of our lost dreams and elusive joy, and only haunt those who misinterpret their messages.  They have no malice, only longing.

 

Ghosts are the shadows of our psyche.  They, like other archetypal figures, represent our lost aspirations both as individuals and as a species.  In many indigenous societies it is the ghost who guides us toward emancipation and actualization, not the angel.  This is because every one of us can identify with a ghost. Few of us have the piety or inherent detachment necessary to make us an angel.  In mythology ghosts can never attain angelic or demonic status.  They live outside the rhythm of life like dissonant chords, condemned to only remember loss.  And it is in this very quality that we see our selves reflected.  In this time of the Great Dying, ghosts call to us more than ever before.

Unsurprisingly, the reductionist cannot understand this embrace of the mystery of transcendence.  The intangible is broken down into facile explanations which extinguish imagination and deride wonder. They equate spirit with superstition or magical thinking.  Authoritarian and patriarchal religions are much the same and have had a lot to do with this backlash.  It is understandable why this is so given their legacy of cruelty, crusades against science and repression of free thought.  But even all of that does not make the narrow reductionist perspective a correct one.

 

Neither science or religion have the final answers to the questions all of us hold deep inside us about life and death, our existence and the existence of this marvelous universe, and the meaning of it all. Throughout history there have been numerous visionaries that have found the courage to step outside their esteemed roles and institutional bias and open their hearts and minds to a greater understanding of who we are. They not only asked questions or sought truth, they yearned for a meaning greater than their societal worldview. A meaning greater than the sum of their parts. The best of them used the arts to express their quest. But art is accessible to all of us. It is the greatest passage way toward understanding.

I think that is why I have appreciated the artist Joan Jonas ever since I encountered her work. She considers rural Nova Scotia, my home, her second home. And I can see why. Outside the city, a place where the songs of ghosts are often mercilessly drowned out by modernity, there are vast stretches of wilderness dotted with sparse communities carved into history and nature like a sculpture. Jonas’ art not only touches on the ghosts of human beings, but of animals and other species, especially the ones who have disappeared forever.

 

Her and other works of this nature bring up many questions for me. When humans pass into the void will our ghosts roam with them? Are those who have gone on already doing this now? Or will we damn our souls to the mediocrity of pseudo separation and supremacy? Will we listen to the ghosts struggling to teach us? Will we hear their pleas for connection, community and solidarity with one another and the myriad of other species that inhabit this life drenched world?

Truthfully, I do not have the answers for any of these questions. But we are all staring down a gun. This is an unprecedented epoch in the age of homo sapiens.  We are witnessing the alarming acceleration of species extinction mostly caused by human activity. With this terrible knowledge we must all choose if we are going to continue to ignore the carnage or face it with courage. Of course awareness alone is not enough. But it is the beginning of transformation. Facing death, ours and that of other living beings, can ignite a fire that can burn away the illusions that fill our modern, congested lives; and rise us out of the din.  Illusions that crowd out our capacity for connection and solidarity.

 

The ghosts that roam among us should not to be feared. They are merely the refracted reflections of our missed opportunities, wars of conquest, folly, misplaced rage, scorned wonder and repressed joy.  They are, in truth, us.  But they have an urgent story to tell; and if we ignore or dismiss them it will be at our own peril.

 

Kenn Orphan 2017

 

Title art piece for this essay is Japanese Ghosts, Katsushika Hokusai: Phoenix, 1835.

An interview with artist Joan Jonas:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4CCsVFhi9o