Tag Archives: mass extinction

No Happy Ending

Chukchi Sea Getty ImagesIn May of this year, the fate of the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Ocean was placed in the hands of a corporation responsible for decimating the once biodiverse Niger Delta. President Obama, barely a month after giving a speech that lampooned climate change deniers, gave the green light to Royal Dutch Shell to proceed with drilling operations in the remote, frozen and biodiverse region. Of course all the usual empty assurances accompanied this announcement; but history tells a different story. Countless oil spills and ravaged ecosystems around the world provide a litany of facts to easily dispel the industry’s hubris. Bird in Oil Spill Source Greenpeace

The Niger Delta is one of the most important wetland regions on the planet. Millions of people depend upon its migratory fish. But since Shell moved in the Delta has been systematically ravaged. Gas flares contaminate the air with benzene, causing birth defects and cancer among the indigenous communities. Over the past fifty years an estimated 1.5 million tons of oil has spilled in the ecosystem. In fact there is a long list of devastation around the world wrought by Royal Dutch Shell and it can be accessed here: http://www.corp-research.org/royal-dutch-shell.

Shell’s ecological destruction goes hand in hand with its brutal suppression of human rights. Its presence in the Niger Delta has brought deforestation, water pollution and poverty. Nearly 85 percent of all oil revenues go to less than 1% of the population in a country where, according to the African Development Bank, more than 70 percent live on less than one US dollar per day. Shell has had a long history of assisting and directing the Nigerian military in the violent suppression of dissent and protest; and Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa presented a problem to the oil giant in that he organized defiance of their destruction of Ogoni lands. On November 10, 1995, Saro-Wiwa was among nine other Ogoni activists murdered after being convicted in a kangaroo court at the behest of Royal Dutch Shell in Nigeria. Ken Saro-Wiwa Nigeria

Oil from a leaking pipeline burns in Goi-Bodo, a swamp area of the Niger Delta in Nigeria October 12, 2004. Oil company Royal Dutch Shell said the leak was caused by unknown saboteurs on Monday who used a hacksaw to cut open a major pipeline feeding oil to an export terminal at Bonny, southern Nigeria. The fire was still raging on Wednesday, but the company said the impact on oil output was minimal. Picture taken October 12, 2004. REUTERS/Austin Ekeinde Pictures of the Month October 2004 TA/RSS/WS - RTRDAI9

Niger Delta Oil Flaring Royal Dutch Shell Getty Images But this is by no means limited to this one corporation. The fossil fuel industry is the most profitable business in human history. And it is accountable to no one. It funds the massive smear campaigns against climate change science, yet in its quest for Arctic oil it ironically dispels this denialism with its actions. As climate change accelerates the Arctic Ocean is melting. It is estimated to have ice free summers in just a few years, something that has never happened since humans stood upright. And now its reserves of oil and gas are being seen by the short sided, the powerful and the greedy as an unprecedented opportunity for exploitation. Oil Executives Source Chip Somodevilla Getty Images North AmericaThis story has no happy ending as it stands right now. When the first spill happens there will be no way to clean it as no technology exists. There will be no one who will be able to stop the gushing of the earth’s toxic blood into the sea. The wealthy will jet away to their seclusion and count their money while the planet burns; and the poor of the world will shoulder the hardest burdens our civilization has wrought. Countless species, some yet unknown, will die silent deaths in obscurity.  And after the Niger Delta, the Alberta Tar Sands and the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, it will become one more visible lesion our species has inflicted on the flesh of the earth.

Kenn Orphan 2015 Polar Bear in the Chukchi Sea Sounce Reuters Greenpeace-Beltra Indigenous People of the Chukchi Sea Source Before They Pass Walruses in the Chukchi Sea https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gonsu2WgXog

Coming Out of the Cave

Office Cubicles  Stock Footage     To succeed in America, we are constantly told, is to occupy a cubicle: in an office, in a suburb and, finally, in one’s own mind. We internalize the belief that attaining the carrots of meretricious wealth maliciously dangled before our eyes will somehow fill the void created by industrial civilization itself.  But the limits to this folly are obscured by its ubiquitous distractions.  It is a terrain of self-delusion, divorced from reality and self-medicated to numbness.

Consumerism  MK FeeneyNourished by the fossilized blood of the ancient earth, this nightmarish landscape of banality flourishes almost endlessly across the horizon. Insulated enclaves of cloned track houses, featureless monolithic office buildings, green golf courses and flowing water are surrounded by parched earth and razed wilderness. It is architecture designed for alienation. It is the triumph of extraordinary conformity and authoritarianism. And it is a celebration of blind and insatiable consumerism for the benefit of the privileged few.

Las Vegas suburbia  Source: Stock FootageThe American psyche has been conditioned to resist deepening or self-examination thanks to the merchants of Wall Street, Hollywood and Washington DC. They aver that endless growth is necessary, good and even patriotic. In reality they are a gang of self-aggrandizing thieves who present themselves as a vanguard here to save us all; and their task is a simple one. They must maintain the unassailable sacrosanct liturgy of capitalism and the mythology of the free market while reducing the natural world to monetary units, replacing the commons with strip malls, and placing life, both human and non, into categories of productivity or disposal. They must manipulate base prejudices against “the other” with jingoism to induce compliance for imperialistic wars of plunder.  They must shrink wrap all that is sacred and life-giving into commodities and parade an endless spectacle of manufactured outrages and celebrity gossip/worship.

celebrity couples Art by Daiana FeuerBut keeping up appearances is untenable and not very sexy when ecosystems are collapsing around you, reservoirs are drying up, and species are rapidly going extinct. The absurdity of their scheme is evinced in their simultaneous denial of climate change and rapacious attempts to extract oil from a rapidly melting Arctic Sea. Such paradigms have the habit of doing themselves in; and this one appears very close to full on collapse. It is death by a thousand cuts or, in this case, a thousand climate change induced storms and droughts.

crane among trashWhere then does this all leave those of us who cannot look away any longer? We can join the ranks of those who wish to reform the system; but how does one reform a metastasized cancer? Most of us have rooted ourselves in self-delusion, partly out of apathy, but mostly out of defeat. The magicians of wealth and power can put on a dazzling show.  And liberation from the claustrophobic confines of their corporate controlled prison of illusion is not easy.  It is also neither sudden or permanent. It requires constant attention and re-visiting. But as in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave we possess the power to spurn the shadows on the wall and rise to the surface of our own accord and, in the process, help others who are weary clamber their way out too. The puppeteers be damned.

Allegory of the Cave by Plato  Source Pixgood

In the light of day the banal landscape of mindless consumerism shatters to create possibility even in the midst of devastation and despair. The vapid forms of entertainment and celebrity adoration that were once alluring, crumble to heaps of hackneyed dust. Here there is no object that can replace the soul, no product that can entice away from the birthright of nature or human connection.

What becomes of us who cannot live comfortably anymore within the emptiness of consumerism? Where do those of us who can no longer ignore or placate the death machine of industrial civilization go? We are pushed out of the cave and to the margins of the empire.  We are forced to the surface. And it is there where we can either languish or decide that freeing our soul is worth the price of exile and even persecution.  In any case, the view at the top is magnificent.

Light of Nature  Source Pichost
Kenn Orphan  2015

A Living Testament to Perpetuity

Nautilus  Source NYT

The chambered nautilus demonstrates a marvelous grace that is next to impossible to describe. The name nautilus is derived from Latin for “sailor.” And indeed, it has traversed the world’s oceans for millions of years, virtually unchanged.  Some may think that a failure of evolution; but in its enduring form it has proven this assumption wrong.  Human beings have only walked this earth for a blip of its sojourn, a mere 200,000 years. And, given our penchant for avarice and aggression, it is not yet clear we will survive even a fraction of a blip more.

Pollution of industrial civilization.  Source Air BetterBiologists around the world have been racing against time to collect as much information as they can about species like the nautilus.  Species that are now imperiled with imminent extinction.  It is a noble pursuit, if not one racked with sorrow.  The Anthropocene Epoch, or the age of homo sapiens, is defined by our continued destruction of the climate and every ecosystem on earth.  Epochs are generally identified by what, or in this case who, has the greatest influence. What’s ironic is that although this epoch bears our name our species is unlikely to survive long enough to see its end.   And sadly, the devastation we have wrought will continue long after we are gone.

The Panamanian golden frog has been pushed close to extinction by fungal disease.It is debatable whether the damage our species has done will prevent this planet from seeing another epoch of life emerge.  But there is hope.  Extremophiles like the tiny tardigrade, or water bear, prove that life can beat odds that we humans would never stand a chance at.  Like the nautilus, the tardigrade stands as a living testament to perpetuity.  Extreme heat, extreme cold, cosmic radiation, no water, none of that matters to this remarkable creature.
A water bear (Paramacrobiotus craterlaki).
Perhaps in a few hundred thousand or even millions of years, after the radioactive fallout from our reckless ventures in nuclear technology abate, and the seas return to a liveable pH balance, species like these will once again ignite an explosion of life on this planet.   Maybe the conditions will be right for one of these species to evolve toward a complex society.  We will never know.  But we can only hope that if they do they will have the wisdom to avoid our mistakes and follies.  And maybe, unlike us, they will be able to sustain a deeper and lasting appreciation for this life drenched ball in space we call earth.

Earth  Source Stock Footage  India TimesKenn Orphan  2015

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

An Economy of Cruelty

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

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

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

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

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

The Us Prison Industrial Complex Source Impact Press

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

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

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

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

Eric Thayer Reuters

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

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

Source Guardian

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

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

Source Vancouver Media Co Op

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

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

Kenn Orphan  2015

Before the Bulldozers Arrive

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

A forest in Nova Scotia The Chronicle Herald

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

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

Credit S Morgan Alamy Nature

Mountaintop Removal in the Sierras source NRDC

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

Urban Sprawl in Virginia Sarah Leen

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

Amazonas_floating_village,_Iquitos,_Photo_by_Sascha_Grabow

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

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

David McNew AFP Getty Images

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

before the bulldozers arrive.

Kenn Orphan  2014

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

Bearing Witness

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

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

Jonathon Blair - Copy

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

Great Hammerhead in Bimini Bahamas Photo by Laura Rock

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

I Shop Therefore I Am

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

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

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

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

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

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

cows at a factory farm

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

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

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

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

sea turtle

(photo: Getty Images)

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

Kenn Orphan  2014

Humanity’s Epitaph

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

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

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

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

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

US-CLIMATE-DEMO
(photo: Associated Press)

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

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

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

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

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

Kenn Orphan  2014

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