Tag Archives: Sixth Mass Extinction

Whistling Past the Graveyard

I must begin with a confession. I have always been troubled by Earth Day. As a lifelong activist I understand and appreciate the concept and how it came to be. But over the years I’ve seen it morph from an almost spiritual movement for ecological consciousness and justice into an opportunity for corporations and politicians to tout their empty gestures at “saving the planet” all while they mercilessly plunder it.  Greenwashing has now taken center stage and the effect has often lead to the neutralizing of public outrage. Like so many things corporate, Earth Day has been tinged with a pathological optimism. The dominant message today exudes an all too pervasive “feel goodism” for a situation that is by all accounts truly monstrous, not only for countless other species on the planet, but for our own.

Nearly fifty years ago in April of 1970 people of conscience gathered to address the destruction of the planet. Since that time politicians, corporations, the fossil fuel industry and their mouthpiece think tanks have worked feverishly, not at addressing the crisis, but at polishing their image.  Today their lavish conferences and consortiums generally serve as window dressing and are a distraction to our collective, growing existential angst, as each passing year gives us a terrifying glimpse into a fast approaching future for our planet, one rife with super storms, floods, mega-droughts, crop failures and species demise.

Within the last decade alone there have been monumental shifts in climate models leaving even the conservative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shocked and bewildered. Indeed, record breaking temperature extremes have become a defining norm of the 21st century, with an ice free Arctic summer now on the horizon. It is becoming apparent that things are more dire than anyone had previously anticipated. We are beginning to see the first stirrings of climate chaos; and it is set against the ominous backdrop of an already ravaged biosphere.

This past year we witnessed an American west coast at once bathed in fire and then awash in mud. We saw the Amazon rain forest, the vaunted “lungs of the planet,” belch out smoke as it reeled from over 200,000 fires. We stood aghast at the hurricanes which decimated the Caribbean and the floods that killed thousands and displaced many more over the summer and into autumn and winter, from China to India and Nepal, to Southeast Asia and West Africa.

Other revelations were equally staggering. Recent studies have confirmed a catastrophic drop in insect populations worldwide. Bird populations are being decimated by loss of food sources, and marine plastic pollution is set to outweigh all fish in the ocean by mid-century. Fish stocks have plummeted and over 90% of Coral reefs, the ocean’s nurseries, will have disappeared by 2050 from bleaching thanks to warming waters and ocean acidification. Forests are being felled at a rate akin to a New Zealand sized areaevery year. Yet despite these staggering developments little to nothing of substance is being done on the global scale that is required.
To be sure, history has demonstrated that most politicians will never face unpleasant realities until they are literally upon us. Our current climate and ecological crisis is no different. As this century unfolds cities and towns will likely be lost to rising seas as governments eventually find that they are too expensive to salvage. Entire regions may become uninhabitable from deforestation, pollution and drought. The specters of famine and disease will undoubtedly haunt billions of people, in fact they already plague millions today. Mass migration could easily make today’s issue appear negligible and would put a strain on fragile social and economic systems that already suffer from vast, structurally imposed inequities. Rich, biodiverse areas could become graveyards. Those in power would undoubtedly answer the concomitant unrest in more Orwellian doublespeak and with insidious distraction, coupled with draconian crackdowns on dissent, protest or objection. None of this is fiction. It has all happened, and not only in civilizations throughout history which have faced socio-economic or ecological collapse. It is happening today in societies which purport to be democratic.

 

 

Here is where people of conscience, like those untarnished souls at the first Earth Day nearly fifty years ago, must be unabashedly truthful about our monstrous and collective predicament. We must face the painful fact that our species has exceeded its limits in growth, population and the exploitation of the natural world. We must also grapple with the fact that the global north is most responsible for the decimation of the biosphere and the ruthless subjugation and exploitation of the global south.

And that there will be no substantive actions taken by our political and corporate leaders to halt this plunder or stem the carnage of the planet’s rich biodiversity. After all, according to their economic ethos they have no vested interest since they profit handsomely from this global arrangement to begin with. They have demonstrated that they are both unwilling and incapable of addressing the issue with the integrity and impetus necessary. Instead, they will continue their bait and switch dance of empty placation and denialism while they stuff their coffers with coin, even as the earth rapidly transforms into another planet before our eyes.

Despite all this we still have tremendous agency to affect the future, both personally and collectively. We have the power to create communities of solidarity and to meet the looming catastrophes and calamities with dignity and humanity. We possess the moral authority to oppose the further defilement of the water and the soil, the very source and sustenance of our lives and that of countless other species. But that agency is diluted and made ineffectual so long as we continue to lie to ourselves and others about where we are as a species.

Earth Day should no longer be taken simply as a gentle, yet trite, reminder to recycle, or use canvas shopping bags, or cycle to work one day out of the week. It should no longer be diminished to “lifestyle choices” that let corporations and governments off the hook. It must quite literally be transformed into a rallying cry for the life of the biosphere. Because anything short of that is merely whistling past the graveyard.

 

Kenn Orphan,  April 2018

Canonizing Criminals and the Lobotomization of Public Memory

What becomes of a man who started a war based upon lies that killed thousands, displaced millions, and destabilized an entire region, decimated civil liberties with sweeping powers granted to government surveillance agencies, instituted torture programs and rounded up scores of innocent people in secret raids sending them to wither away in a gulag in the Caribbean, left thousands of his citizens to languish in disease infested flood waters in the Gulf Coast following a major hurricane, gutted environmental regulations in favour of industry, and created the predatory and neoliberal economic conditions that led to the “Great Recession?” Apparently, if you are a former US President you get transfigured into saint.
          Like a bad penny, this past year has seen the curious resurfacing of George W. Bush in public life. And in this absurd era of Trumpism he is being canonized by many top Democrats with several prominent Liberals following suit. It seems that over night a war criminal has been miraculously transformed into a lovable “senior statesman;” a granddad who paints delightful pictures and gives “inspiring” speeches against bigotry. Bush, like practically all of the ruling political class in Washington, should have been brought before the International Criminal Court in the Hague for his crimes against humanity and the living planet. But as a response to the mendacioussexistracist behaviour and policies of Donald Trump, and with the assistance of a corporate media which delights in collective, cultural amnesia, many establishment Liberals have been pining of late for the GWB presidency.

          When one understands the machinations of American political power it isn’t all that strange. Most Democratic partisans did the same for the Obama administration which got a pass (and still does) for deporting more immigrants than the previous administration and prosecuting more whistleblowers than all US presidents combined. It is what they did when they overlooked, cheered on or forgave him and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, for the decimation of Libya or dropping over 26,000 bombs in seven Muslim majority countries, or assassinating a 16 year old US citizen without due process, bombing wedding parties, ambulances and a grandmother picking okra in their field. It is not surprising, but it is no less repulsive and disheartening for anyone with any respect for civic or political memory.
          Time has proven the only tactic of the wealthy Liberal establishment is minimal protest and major capitulation to reactionary power in order to preserve their position in the current order. It is why most serious socialists, anarchists, radicals and leftists refuse to be allies with them. They have all too often felt the sting of betrayal. Nancy Pelosi infamously said “we’re capitalists” when she smugly admonished a young progressive disillusioned with capitalism at a “town hall meeting.” And she was not kidding. The Democratic Party establishment has benefited from and supported Wall Street over and over again and it has always voted in favour of a bloated and aggressive military industrial complex.  They have done their part to sponge away the crimes of the capitalist class so long as their place, privilege and status in this sick societal paradigm had a remote chance of being secured.

One can almost understand and predict this behaviour. Trump is a living dumpster fire of grotesque vulgarity who has ignited a bolder white nationalism and bamboozled many poor whites into thinking he cares about their problems. Despite being the ultimate plutocrat, he was able to get this lie across to many of them while the Democrats in all of their smugness ignored them. He is a master at manipulating their fears and bigotries and at muddying the waters of discourse. He employs scapegoating of minorities or oppressed groups with ease. And his foreign policy is so erratic and volatile that it causes even a seasoned intelligence officer to lose sleep at night thinking of him having access to the nuclear codes.

          It is a dangerous delusion, however, to believe George W. Bush or any of the powerful elite, are any different from one another in the end. GWB’s persona might have had a makeover, but his class hasn’t. And Trump is the most accurate emblem of that class. Bush and Trump alike sit atop an extraordinarily cruel and oppressive power structure in American society. The moneyed class only hates Trump because he reveals the true face of predatory capitalism to the public without the cloak of their “blue blooded” pomp, flourishes and sentimentality. Of course he must be opposed, but this alone is meaningless unless the entire oppressive, self-destructive, planet decimating system, of which he and Bush both belong, is brought down with him.
          America may be the last, most powerfully lethal, empire on earth. Its wealthy elite have mastered the insidious art of inverted totalitarianism and ensconced corporate capitalism into every institution. What’s worse is that it has forcefully transported this malignancy around the world through the subversion of democracyeconomic imperialism,and military aggression. On a planet with dwindling resources, a climate getting angrier by the day, and mass extinction of species its powerful operate within a global capitalist class who enjoy near total impunity for their crimes against humanity and the planet as they push us closer to the precipice of collapse.
         Given all of this, going back in time may seem desirable for some. This is especially true for those who were not adversely affected by the egregious or even murderous policies, plunder and wars of the past. But it is only the privileged who can entertain such flights of fancy. To cozy up to power or erase their crimes is to become allies with the very forces that threaten our collective doom. The current order is one which is poised to destroy not just civilization but the entire biosphere.  Rapid, monumental action is required to halt a system which is leading us to certain ruin, and address and mitigate the chaos of an unfolding dystopic present and future. In politics, this is not the time to protect a murderous status quo or preserve one’s own privilege within it. This is an existential crisis which requires a global revolution in thought and practice. Nothing less will do.
I can only hope most liberals will learn this painful lesson soon, while there is still time left to do so.
Kenn Orphan  2017

The Normalization of Perpetual Disaster

In case you missed it…

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

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

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

 

Kenn Orphan  2017
 

The Real World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Kenn Orphan  2017

Trailhead near Prospect, Nova Scotia, by Kenn Orphan:

 

Jellyfish Chips and Making Biosphere Collapse Trendy

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Kenn Orphan  2017

The Ghosts That Roam Among Us

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Kenn Orphan 2017

 

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

An interview with artist Joan Jonas:

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

Free Fall

Perhaps you can commiserate.  I keep having this recurring thought.  I am perched on a branch above a flooding stream. The muddy waters below me churn and swell.  The winds howl around me.  Torrents of rain beat down on my head. Others clamber up the tree near me. I reach out a hand only to watch them pulled away into the dark waters.  Then the branch on which I sit begins to crack and I realize I am in free fall. It is a helpless and desperate feeling.  It is the end of the world… the end of my world.

No, this recurring feeling I have had is not about the circus unfolding in Washington DC.  It is rooted in our collective predicament as a species.  I have said this several times before, but I believe more and more that we are at a place in human history where the status quo of almost everything is about to shift and the American political landscape is only one piece of this dire reality.  It is true that no one can predict the future with certainty, but it it is also true that many of us have a pretty good idea of where we are all heading.

floods-in-thailand-source-the-atlanticIn case you were off world and missed it, let me break it down: the climate is rapidly transforming in real time before our eyes.  Ice sheets in Antarctica, frozen for millions of years, are disintegrating rapidly and collapsing in a months time.  Massive wildfires and intractable drought on each continent have become a year round reality.  Biblical floods are a terrifying, new normal.  Soil depletion is widespread; and the integrity of biomass is greatly degraded and imperiled.  The planet’s oceans are acidifying with dead zones growing exponentially in size each year.   What we are witness to is the Sixth Mass Extinction, a human caused disaster that is sweeping over us like a tsunami.  In its insurmountable wake it is taking with it the earth’s largest living organism, a being visible from orbit, the Great Barrier Reef.  Petrifying it in a blanket of stark, white death.

Within mere decades many, if not most, of the coastal areas of the world will be inundated.  Drought is poised to cause widespread famine and disease will follow close behind.  Of course the poorest of the poor who have always suffered the most will suffer exponentially in the years to come.  A refugee crisis not seen before in human history is on the horizon, but Westerners should not kid themselves.  We are all in the same sinking spaceship; and at some point this global catastrophe will leave no one untouched.

Greetings from California by Joe Webb.The companion to this appears to be a collective lunacy among world leaders and the most powerful.  Armed to the teeth with life extinguishing nukes, they seem to have reduced our collective, existential predicament to a joust between failing empires.  They are bolstering a renewed, reactionary authoritarianism and stoking base prejudices among the masses.  The melting Arctic sea does not alarm them.  On the contrary, it presents them with new opportunities for exploitation of ever dwindling and harder to reach oil reserves, the earth’s poisonous primordial blood.  They look at the coming collapse with shrugged shoulders while they fill their coffers with coin.  And make no mistake, they will not cease this destruction voluntarily.  In the end the failing systems of the earth’s biosphere and climate and the impossible equation of infinite growth on a planet with finite resources will put a stop to their unhinged folly.  But what price will we all have to pay for their madness?
I Shop Therefore I AmAnd how, then, can we make sense of our predicament?   How do we live lives of dignity, purpose and meaning in the midst of a free fall of civilization and the biosphere?   I think it begins with disengaging from the dominant narrative of a profoundly sick culture.  It is a narrative which reinforces separation from nature and the universe itself.  It is a message center which controls how we see the world and all of its inhabitants.  It objectifies, commodifies and nullifies the inherent worth of all living things and replaces them with absurd facsimiles of life which end up both mocking and crushing the soul and polluting the verdant earth.  It is a culture responsible for war, poverty and avarice; and it is blind to its own imminent demise.

This age we live in reinforces alienation, denial, apathy and despair by hapless design.  If we are to reclaim our humanity and our place in this rapidly deteriorating world we must return to that most childlike of qualities: imagination.  We need to find the courage to place ourselves unashamedly into that dream time of imagining a world of connection with all that lives and the sense of wonder that comes with it.  We need to give ourselves permission to pry open the cultural locks that have constrained our soul in a prison of lies, and reject anything that devalues us or separates us from the other.  Perhaps then we can really begin to live the life we were all intended to live on this life drenched planet, even if we are in the last great epoch of our species.

refugees-seek-sanctuary-souce-the-vienna-reviewA growing number of scientists argue, and with compelling empirical evidence, that a free fall of the biosphere is already under way.  If this is true it will inevitably lead to the breakdown of complex societal systems and social order.  The increase in relentless storms, droughts, famines and disease will accompany the rise of authoritarianism, racist xenophobia and militaristic nationalism around the globe.  Truthfully, we are already seeing much of this happening today.  In fact, much of the world now deals with this uncertain brutality and barbarism.  But in the dark days that lie ahead no one will be spared the painful choices such a convergence will bring.

Many of us who have lived relatively calm lives in more affluent or stable societies will be increasingly asked to take uncomfortable stands that billions in poorer countries encounter daily.  These stands can result in the loss of social status, jobs or even relationships.  Many of us may endure unjust hearings, inquisitions or trials, or even face state or mob violence if we speak out against social hatred, defy repression, break unethical or inhuman laws, or provide shelter, sustenance or sanctuary to the foreigner, or the migrant, or the persecuted.  It will not always be straightforward and certainly not easy.  In the end. however, it has always come down to a fundamental choice between the better part of our humanity or in its rejection.  We must all find this part and grapple with these troubling things sooner or later, but for me the choice is a clear one.

 

Kenn Orphan 2017

Ushering in the Closing Chapter of the Human Species

The epic assaults being carried out against the vulnerable around the world at this very moment will determine the fate of our species and the living earth itself.  To the powerful this statement is hyperbole at its extreme, but to those of us on the other side there is no condemnation that is too exaggerated when it comes to the destruction of communities and of the biosphere itself.  The attacks are taking place along ancient rivers in the American Dakotas, in the life drenched rain forests of Ecuador, in historic olive groves in Palestine, in the melting tundra of the Arctic circle, in the sun baked Niger Delta, and in the war torn or misery laden shanty’s of Aleppo, Kolkata, Jakarta, Nairobi and beyond.  These may seem like separate instances to some, but they are a part of a global struggle and the outcome will in all likelihood determine our collective future and that of millions of other species that we share this planet with.

This screen shot from a Democracy NOW! video purports to show security dogs used Sept. 3, 2016, to drive back protestors who had overrun the Dakota Access Pipeline worksite north of Cannon Ball, N.D. Images Courtesy Democracy NOW!

indigenous-leaders-from-ecuador-protest-chevrons-deliberate-pollution-of-the-rainforest-photo-from-new-york-timesI believe that the intersectionality of these conflicts are indicative of a broader struggle over guiding principles and mythologies.  Some may see this as an oversimplification, and while I would agree that we should be careful to consider and respect nuance, context and individual histories, there are some general themes which may unite us while there is still time.  These conflicts have been with our species since we began to walk upright.  But now they are global in scale and there are two sides that should be identified above all others.

One side values living beings over profit, and sees protection of the water and the soil and the air as the most fundamental responsibilities of any society.  It values cooperation and generosity above individual ambition.  It shuns all forms of violent coercion, land theft and repression.  It is against aggression and wars of conquest.  It is the way of Community. The other is based upon the dominance of the physically powerful and suppression of the weak. It sees the living planet merely as a means for amassing material profit.  It commodifies everything, living and non.  It values avarice and ruthless competition over cooperation. It believes the only viable way forward is through suppression of dissent, ridicule, marginalization of the poor and the downtrodden, jingoistic nationalism and organized State violence.  It is the way of Empire.

palestinian-protesters-stand-amid-blazes-set-by-settlers-to-their-olive-groves-photo-source-transcend

canadian-paramilitary-forces-attack-indigenous-elsipogtog-mi-kmaq-first-nation-and-local-residents-as-they-blockaded-a-new-brunswick-fracking-exploration-site-photo-from-common-dreams

activists-in-port-harcourt-nigeria-photo-source-earth-first-journalThe language of Empire is duplicitous.  It employs the parlance of pale euphemisms like sustainability, austerity or free trade to obscure its true authoritarian and feudalistic intentions.  It encourages nationalistic sentimentality and racial and ethnic division to obscure the reality of its imposed classism.  It objectifies the living planet through clever marketing and branding with such subtle ease that it becomes ever more difficult to decipher and parse.  But in the end the Empire cannot cloak the stench of a dying world forever with catchy jingles, cynical ploys, shiny new objects, paranoid bigotries or vapid distractions.

In their quest to maintain and grow their coffers, the powerful see the dissolving ice cap as a strategic business opportunity for geopolitical advancement.  They see the growing difficulty in extracting high quality petroleum as an excuse to erase ancient mountaintops, pierce deep ocean trenches and scrape away primeval forests for less viable and more earth damaging fossil fuels.  They see growing inequities between us and the handful of people who own half the world’s wealth as opportunities for enhanced security walls and surveillance.  They see hunger and famine as a chance to litter the world with pesticides and chemically or genetically altered food or factory farms which are little more than massive concentration camps for sentient beings.  They see flattened forests and fouled rivers as a way of moving indigenous peoples into overcrowded, cordoned off corporate colonies for easier exploitation, social control and abandonment.  And if they continue on their path the world they are forging will rival every other civilization in history in atrocity, repression and misery.

President Clinton And President George W. Bush Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Trump and Clinton. Getty Images.

Oil Executives. Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesThe war the Empire is waging is not about isms or ideologies, it is about power, exploitation and wealth.  And to those of us being assaulted the cause is as urgent as it is dire.  It is literally about life and death.  We see the rising tides of an ever imperiled, acidic sea. We walk in the fallow fields where there may be no crops harvested tomorrow.  We breathe the acrid air choked out by smokestacks of insatiable, blind industry.  We see the walls and borders and checkpoints and guard dogs and police tanks and surveillance cameras and detention camps burgeoning as if unstoppable.  We hear the drums of imperialistic war being beaten every day of every year.  And we stand in shock at the unquenchable lust for wealth that stain the halls of power even as they dig our dusty mass graves.  When we sound the alarm or even raise concern about any of this we can expect to be ignored, chided or silenced by the powerful in the media, corporations, the military or political establishment or even clergy.  We anticipate being co-opted by the ruling oligarchy or by cynical corporate interests.  But we are weary of this kind of marginalization and we aren’t going down without a fight.

protectors-of-the-water-north-dakota-source-bbc

ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 14: Ferguson activists march through downtown during a protest on March 14, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis and the nearby town of Ferguson have experienced many protests, which have often been violent, since the death of Michael Brown who was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer in August. On Wednesday evening two police officers were shot while they were securing the Ferguson police station during a protest. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Officials observe indigenous people protesting in BrazilThe powerful will not stop waging their war this year or next.  It will undoubtedly play out and grow for the next few decades even as the planet’s ecosystem’s spiral and crash, because dollar signs and dominance are all they truly understand.   This is not just another chapter in some unending saga of the human story.  It is not something that any resident of planet earth can afford to sit out.   If they are victorious this war may very well usher in the closing chapter of the human species and far sooner than anyone could ever imagine.  We must join with each other if only to ease each others suffering, or bring one small amount of justice to the oppressed, or to protect one small river way or field or stretch of beach.  This war they are waging is against the living planet and their own future whether they realize it or not.  But even if they do not care about their children’s future, we must.

a-native-american-woman-sits-on-a-bluff-in-north-dakota-at-the-pipeline-protest-source-the-guardianKenn Orphan 2016

Grieving in Silence

When I was in my early twenties I never thought that in my lifetime I would see the death of the Great Barrier Reef and scores of other coral reefs around the world.  I never thought I would see the temperature of the North Pole reach 50 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, or gigantic nation-sized shelves of ice simply break off and fall into the sea in Antarctica.  I never thought I would read about scores of species dying en masse, washing up on shores, or going extinct every single day.   I never thought that plastic in the seas would outweigh marine life by mid century, or huge swaths of forest succumb to pine beetles and blight.  Now twenty years on I have witnessed all of that and more, and most of it has happened in just the last few years. I often find myself being overwhelmed by an enormous tide of grief that envelopes my entire being; and it doesn’t countenance being ignored.

But I live within a society that values denial over truth.  And lately I have begun to relate more to Edvard Munch’s iconic painting “The Scream.” It seems to me to be the perfect emblem of our times, an anthem of despair silenced by the absurdity of the status quo.   I realize that many of us feel this deep sense of sorrowful terror; but many more can do little more than cry out in that private, interior space that our culture has consigned us to.
The Scream by Edvard Munch.Many traditions have a public means for displaying private grief.   Years ago, in Europe and in the Americas, those who were mourning the death of a loved one announced their grief to others by wearing a piece of black cloth around their arm or by placing a black wreath upon their front doors. Today much of that has been rejected as being too morbid or depressing Perhaps part of this normalization is due to our evolutionary heritage; but certainly the distractions of our industrialized culture have numbed most of our senses and reinforced the myth of our separateness from the natural world.  How else can the absence of outrage or public lamentation regarding the unfolding ecocide be explained?

I, like almost everyone else I know, go about my day in the routine that has been assigned to me by society.  I get up in the morning, take the drugs that keep my blood pressure in check, eat something processed, wash up and merge into the busy and confining passages that define modernity.  Living within this labyrinth discourages any introspection. There simply isn’t enough time, ever.  Thoughts about our place in the universe, or our mortality, or the meaning of it all are summarily dismissed in this culture.  In the media or in popular entertainment this subject is usually only included as a form of comic relief.  “What is the meaning of life?” has become the crux of jokes.  We are chided or ridiculed for thinking too much and sent to a cubicle to perform as a useful cog in the machine of industry; and then to another cubicle to shop for items we are told we need or that will “enhance” our lives, and then to a cubicle that we are charged money to live in and sit in front of yet another cubicle that tells us what to think, how to feel, and what is important.

Cubicles via The Repetitive Swan.This is the only way that it can all work.  It is the only way that the natural world can be compartmentalized and commodified.  It is the only way that the killing ideologies of militarism, nationalism and capitalism can go unquestioned.  Now, of course, we can see it has worked all too well as we march head long into extinction with nary a concern.  But the tower of mythology that supports every aspect of industrial civilization is beginning to crumble beneath the weight of its own hubris and apathetic indulgences.  We ignored the planet’s boundaries, and now those boundaries are closing in on us fast.

The world will look very different in just a mere decade or so.  This is not a prophetic declaration, it is a certainty that is easy to demonstrate.  Our leaders, when they are not in outright denial, reinforce the absurd notion that we still have plenty of time to stop climate change even as it is abruptly shifting before our eyes.  And sustainability is nothing more than a lie of consumer capitalism.  What, after all, is worth sustaining?  A societal model that requires an economy that must grow regardless of the ecological and social costs?  Or that tolerates mass species extinction?  Or that allows for endless military aggression to ensure a constant flow of minerals and fuel to produce objects which will end up in a landfill or in the ocean for eons?  If depression and neuroses are companions of cancer and heart disease in this model of sustainability, is this really worth preserving?

The stark truth is that there is little collective will to change the path we are currently on as a species.  Its trajectory is solidly towards collapse of the biosphere.  And even if monumental changes were implemented tomorrow by the powers that be it would not stop the seas from rising, or stop the process of ocean acidification, or resolve the plastic soup that churns at its center, or solve the never ending meltdown at Chernobyl or Fukushima, or prevent the release of methane from the seabed, or stave off famine for millions of people, and bring back thousands of species now gone forever.

Greetings from California by Joe Webb.I realize that this entire essay is antithetical to the zeitgeist of interminable optimism that defines our age.  In truth, I gave up trying to fit into this model a long time ago when I saw it as merely a kind of collective psychosis.  I write because, selfishly, I must.  It is my silent scream outward from a dark, interior pain of alienation, frustration and sadness.  I am not looking for a magic elixir or a pharmaceutical or an intervention to medicate or block out this pain either.  I want to feel it because it exists and because this is a culture that I wish to separate myself from; and I think we must all feel it and show this publicly while we still have time.  I don’t think that doing any of this will spare us the calamities that appear to be waiting for us just down the road, but maybe it can help us reclaim a sense of meaning to it all that has been robbed from us by an insipid, manic and brutal system of mindless consumption, and vacuous distraction.

I see what is unfolding and I cannot help but feel great sorrow.  My scream of anguish, though silent, can no longer be inward.  I am in mourning.  I grieve all that has been and will be lost.  And I will place a black wreath upon my door and wear a black cloth around my arm for all the world to see, not because I am brave, but because I simply cannot grieve in silence anymore.

Kenn Orphan  2016

On Being a Climate Migrant

When I first moved to San Diego twenty years ago I fell in love.  Blue skies, blue Pacific, lush, rolling hills of scrub oak and chaparral and warm sun most of the year. Back then the freeways did not seem to be full all day and night as they do now. People weren’t as aggressive towards each other either. I could walk along the beach alone and feel like I was the only one for miles; and the tide pools were brimming with life. The containment of urban sprawl was a cherished community value. The cost of living may have been high compared to many other places, but one could enjoy a very satisfying life even with a meager income.

San Diego Traffic. Photo from LA Times Blog.Now living here has become very costly, and enjoyment a rare luxury. The people seem perpetually hurried and harried. And so many of the hilltops have been scraped away for housing developments, shopping malls and industrial parks. Wildlife has been cordoned off into “preserves” and roadways lace the canyons and mesas. Make no mistake, I love California and will always consider it my home in many ways. But the state I knew only exists in memory. And now we are facing a megadrought in a place where the population is ballooning with seemingly few taking notice.

Suburban Sprawl in San Diego. Photo, Getty Images.So my partner and I decided a couple years ago that it was time to move on. We are collecting what we need and embracing our loved ones before we embark on a journey northward to the place of my ancestry and that I consider a home from my childhood, in what is shaping up to be the last epoch of human civilization as we know it.  I would like to carve out a small sanctuary in one of the few pristine places left on the planet. Is this hyperbolic? Am I only two cans of corn away from being an “end times prepper?”   I’m sure to many Americans I am being extreme. When I tell people that I am migrating from California because of abrupt climate change, and the ecological and societal collapse that will accompany it, I am often met with blank stares or eye rolls. I think this is because the reality of our dire circumstances has not yet hit home to most Americans who live in privileged, coastal cities. But to those of us who are paying attention the approaching maelstrom is undeniable.

San Bernadino Fires Getty

Homes fall to flash flooding in California. Source NBC News.Our planet has been warming, but this trend has taken leaps and bounds in the past few years with each one hotter than the last. Records are being shattered each month. For most of the world’s population calamity is not some distant risk factor. Water scarcity and famine now tower over hundreds of millions of people from Sudan to India to Malaysia and beyond like ravenous angels of death. Species extinction is accelerating across the globe as well. It is like watching a dystopic science fiction flick with no end of the chaos in sight.

Drought in India. Photo Source India Water Portal.

Rohingya Refugees Source The GuardianTo say that all of this is overwhelming is an understatement. But I think what is perhaps worse than this is living in the heart of a culture where grief is ridiculed and that is defined by a collective disconnect from the unfolding reality of ecocide. The sham that is American democracy is also demoralizing, especially when given the current spectacle we are seeing in the Presidential election cycle. And with climate change appearing to accelerate, the prospect of living in a divisive, burgeoning police state is terrifying to say the least. Dying empires cast long shadows of cruel absurdity as they unravel. And if one lingers too long in its darkness the soul begins to wither and harden.

Bread and Circuses Source International TimesSo I am declaring myself a climate migrant. But I am lucky. I do not have to clamber on to shoddy boats and risk drowning, or take a perilous journey on foot across a parched and dangerous land. I see what is ahead and I have the privilege of fleeing from a lot of it. This isn’t much consolation, though. Only a smug sociopath would get satisfaction with being right in this instance. For anyone with a conscience there is no joy in telling people “I told you so” when faced with their suffering and sorrow, even if you have been largely ignored or dismissed as over the top for years. Some can do this with ease. They can point jagged, scornful fingers at the smoker who is now dying from lung cancer, and feel somehow justified in doing so even as such callousness reduces their own humanity to ashes. I believe that the depth of ones character is measured in the compassion one has for other beings; and I haven’t shed near enough tears to measure up to the tremendous suffering of our planet and all of its inhabitants.

Young Buck On The Second Peninsula Lunenburg Nova Scotia is a photograph by William OBrien.

Giants Lake Wilderness, Nova Scotia. Source, The Chronicle Herald.I hope that this move will at least demonstrate just how serious and dire I think things really are. Maybe it will cause some to sit up and pay attention. I realize that most people do not have the resources to take bold steps like this; and I am not attempting to cast myself as a martyr. I do not possess the spiritual credentials to warrant such a distinction anyway. But I think if more of us take steps, big or small, that shun mindless consumerism and recognize the urgent state we are all in, we may have a chance of building communities of compassionate souls who cherish each other and hold sacred this beautiful planet while we still have time left to do so.  I can only hope it will.

Kenn Orphan  2016