Tag Archives: human extinction

Facing Our Greatest Nemesis

Photographer Paulo Fridman Bloomberg Sao Paulo, Brazil, a city of over 11 million people, may literally run out of water. Let that really sink in for a moment. Politicians in Brazil ignored or downplayed this crisis until it reached the calamitous point it is at now.  Instead they poured their attention and money into the World Cup and displaced thousands of people from their homes in the process.  In recent weeks people across varying demographics have taken to the streets to protest the gross malfeasance of a government drunk on the lies of 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.”   It is also the most destructive, savage and final stage of capitalism. Photograph Andre Penner AP For most of us the enormity of this catastrophe is still difficult to grasp.  But there it is right in front of us. The normalcy bias, that almost hypnotic state of denial we often experience when faced with disaster, appears to be ubiquitous these days. The media reports these stories (sometimes) but there is seldom, if ever, a discussion about the global ramifications an existential threat like this presents for all of humanity.  Sao Paulo should serve as a loud wail of warning that the entire world has forever changed, and we are not prepared for what lies ahead.

Crops Dying Time
Herein lies the lesson for all of us.  As climate change accelerates and the resources of our planet dwindle, rivers dry up, fields lay fallow, and flood waters rise, the wealthy and powerful will do the only thing they know how to do. They will ignore or downplay serious environmental problems.  They will build more prison walls. They will arm their police forces with the equipment of the battlefield. They will launch war after war of imperialistic plunder cloaked in a veil of meaningless slogans and jingoism. They will employ racism to divide. They will continue to dismantle civil liberties under the guise of national security. They will instruct the media to distract and invert the truth. And they will keep us all on a diet while they feast on what remains. Gaza City Photo AFP Israel’s treatment of Gaza also provides a window into a future that all humanity may soon know all too well. It is emblematic of a future of militarized walls and open air prisons. Since the beginning of the blockade in 2007 Gaza has been reduced to rubble over and over again, the last time in the summer of 2014, in what can accurately be called collective punishment. Food and construction materials are still restricted. And an Israeli official spoke plainly regarding their intentions. “The idea,” he said, “is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” After Israel repeatedly destroyed its infrastructure, Gaza may now be out of clean drinking water as soon as 2020. The casualness of such barbarity is staggering, especially since the population of Gaza is over 40% children under 14 years of age. Khuzaa Gaza ruins No matter how one views the history of this region, it should be clear to most that Israel is far more powerful than Gaza, which is restricted by Israel in exporting goods, and has no army, air force or navy. In contrast, Israel is an economic powerhouse which exports military technology and pharmaceuticals, and is the fourth largest military power in the world in addition to possessing nuclear weapons. It also controls Gazan airspace, restricts travel in and out of the strip, and routinely fires on fishermen off its coast. It is an example of neoliberal plunder being played out with textbook precision in a Western nation.  The powerful vanquish the powerless; and the wealthy grow their wealth in stupefying proportions in the midst of immense and imposed poverty. Pollution in India Source Voice of India In India, the world’s most populous democracy, neoliberalism has carved out a landscape that magnifies wealth inequities. As in China, river ways are polluted with industrial waste in a mad dash toward the reward of material wealth and an inevitable descent into dystopian misery. It is a nation that is literally on the brink of mass migration, social collapse and extinction, but is one of the most lauded among the neoliberal elite. Here one can see the grotesque display of wealth sitting upon a pile of refuse being praised for its so-called progress.  Mumbai is a visual aid to understanding the end result of neoliberalism.  Gilded towers rise in supercilious impudence above fetid shanty towns of exploitation and misery.  And the wealthy have created an insular bubble to shield them from the blight of indigence that surrounds them.  As in Israel, there is a growing reactionary nationalism which poses unique and terrifying prospects given that it too possesses nuclear arms.

Mumbai India Source Getty Images
In truth the immoral metric of neoliberal capitalism is incapable of preparing us for the catastrophes looming on the horizon. Its machinery is greased by illusion, distraction and willful ignorance. It is the reason why depression and anxiety dominate the Western psyche. It is the most emblematic feature of a dying civilization, medicated to numbness through drugs, alcohol, violence, political spectacle and vacuous entertainment.  It is an order that views the powerless as either commodities for exploitation or nuisances for disposal. The oil under the thawing Arctic or the beleaguered rainforests of South America and the bread basket of war torn Ukraine are all business opportunities. The damage done is calculated as “externalities,” essentially someone else’s problem. But the world is getting smaller and the dumping grounds are getting closer, even to the enclaves of the privileged and powerful.

02. Misery's CompanyWe, as a species, have either created, permitted or have been oppressed by the order that is threatening our collective demise in a mere blip of geologic time. Indeed, it is this order that has already sentenced countless species to the halls of extinction; and enslaves millions of people around the world in sweatshop fire traps, pesticide ridden fields and lung choking mines. But our dissent is a raft to actualized freedom. Our ability to simply say no may be our last and greatest action against the brutality and cruelty of our age.  Walruses are finding less and less sea ice. Image by the U.S. Geological Survey.Unique Fish Species is Dangerously Close to Extinction. Photo Source Animal Planet.Endangered Sea Turtles. Photo Jordi Chias PujolIt is certain that neoliberal capitalism’s days are numbered. To wit, regardless of its implacable hubris, it simply cannot outsmart nature.  Sao Paulo, Gaza and India provide us with some of the best examples we have of its dystopian future.  They should serve as warnings and ignite our conscience and imagination.  But the minutes to midnight are quickening; and the ability of our species to deny reality and delay action is staggering.  It is true that human beings have a remarkable capacity to rise from improbable ashes, but now we are facing the greatest nemesis we have ever encountered… ourselves.  And the odds of us rising again after this ever impending fall are getting slimmer by the second.

Kenn Orphan   2015

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

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)

The Map Out

MALL1-facebook     One of the most harrowing challenges of modern life in the West is navigating through the massive desert of mindless, materialistic consumerism. It is within this landscape that a soul can become lost and drenched in despair. From the endless stream of vacant eyed wraiths that glide down catwalks, to the pervasive advertising that never ceases to demean the values of empathy and compassion and hollow out any meaning associated with human connection, to the entertainment industry which revels in the depths of cruelty it can sink to, the onslaught on the psyche is both constant and merciless.

consumerism Picture Source Green is SexyThe American shopping mall is a reflection of this nightmare of ravenous cupidity and a message of stark disenfranchisement to the ever growing underclass. Its glossy finishes and plastic displays erect a wall of defense against anything remotely human or sacred. It entices the youngest of our society with the promise of fulfillment and social status through the acquisition of objects, the alteration of their faces and bodies, and the tacit abandonment of any connection with the natural world and all the beings that inhabit it. Concrete and glass monoliths of corporatism drive home the deepest sense of alienation and desolation by design. It is a fantasy land of the cruelest fakery, replacing the lively, chaotic and thoroughly interactive market place with the impersonal, the absurd, and the surreal. Exported around the world to some of the most impoverished nations on the planet, it is a unique, exclusionary and effective form of imperialism.

The Big Box stores, in contrast, make no pretense to that kind of romanticism. They sit shamelessly on seas of pavement in wetlands, lush meadows or downed forests, scraped and drained clean of their original life and inhabitants. They are a reflection of what America has become; a stark and depersonalized vision of depravity within the setting of a dying ecosystem. Their plastic and glossy objects fill giant bins as they fill our oceans and river systems. Their clothing racks conceal the stain of sweat shop slavery. They exude the callousness of a factory farm, encouraging and cheering on aggression, prodding livestock into its maw of spiraled decadence. This is the architecture of banal cruelty and indifference.
mindless consumerism Philosophers Stone

Understanding this landscape it should not come as a surprise that stories about vampires and zombies dominate contemporary, popular entertainment. These themes perfectly mimic the corporate capitalist economic model which glamorizes and celebrates the ghoulish and the macabre, while it rapaciously feeds upon the most vulnerable and powerless members of society for profit. The monsters in these tales are almost always fascinating, beautiful or so powerful as to be envied, while their victims are generally bereft of any identity at all. And this is exactly the way the wealthy elite want ordinary people to think of themselves. This ideology may contribute to the emergence of the mass shooter phenomenon, but it also underlies the mass acceptance of the police state model which relies on the violence of the state to reinforce the boundaries of class, and to bolster the mythology of the superiority of the powerful and wealthy.

The map out of this nightmare is often masked by the empty promises of having more stuff, altering ones outer appearance or conforming to socially acceptable shallowness. Advertising, social media and the political class, which sanctify the zombification of modern society, demand we attune and respond to their dictates and Siren song, lest we be banished from the corporate kingdom. Of course exclusion is terrifying to the elite and serf alike. We have been trained to avert our eyes from the homeless, the working poor and the far flung slaves to our insatiable consuming. If we dare look we might see our collective future. We might see exactly how our separateness is a grand deceit, a scam. And in doing so we might indeed shun otherness for the embrace of actual human beings. Free or revolutionary thought cannot be tolerated in a capitalist corporatocracy where denial, jingoism and conformity are embedded in the liturgy.

Black Friday Shoppers

But we are coming to the end of the illusion, for better and for worse, sooner rather than later. The planet’s ecosystems are wailing from the misery our way of life has inflicted upon them. They are dying. And the humanity that has been enslaved to continue this insanity are beginning to recognize their chains. Mass extinction is fast closing in on us.  All of us will be forced to face this reality whether we want to or not. An industrial, consumerist society, based upon an endless growth economic model on a planet with finite resources, is impossible to sustain. It will eventually collapse.

Shell oil pollution Niger Delta Agence France Presse

Camel dead from plastic consumption

Polar bear on dwindling Arctic ice sheet PA

If there is map out of the cemetery that we have long dug for countless species by our selfish indulgences and out of the wreckage of civilization, that irony of all ironies, it may very well lie in the chance, however remote, that some of us will emerge from the ruins long enough to tell a different story of who we are.  Perhaps we will have enough time to honor all that we had and mourn all that was lost.  And perhaps future generations, if there are any who survive, will not hate us too much for the brutality we tolerated and the ecocide we caused.

Perhaps.

Kenn Orphan  2014

Photo Credits:
-An abandoned shopping mall in Mid-west America and is credited to Seph Lawless, courtesy of TWC (The Weather Channel)

-Courtesy of the Philosopher’s Stone

-Black Friday shoppers and is stock footage (Techno Buffalo)

-Devastation in the Niger Delta from oil pollution. Agence France Presse.

-Camel dead from consuming plastic waste.  Plastic Pollution Coalition

-A polar bear on a ever dwindling Arctic ice sheet/PA