Dawn

A poem by Deborah Cummins:

 

The sun is suspended

in the spruce’s lowest branches. No wind

has startled the oaks to rattle.

The only voices are the gulls’, the warblers’,

and nothing in their language

signifies to me expectation.

 

Oh, that I were capable

of such translation. To think

that because my eyes are now open,

I’ve put the whole thing into motion—

the oldsquaw’s low tide probing,

the osprey’s flight from its nest

of warp and sticks.

That because I throw back the covers,

step into my shows, only now

will the road’s curve beckon.

 

Like saying because the moon

has disappeared, she no longer exerts

her pull, and the sea needn’t obey

its mistress. Like saying I bear no similarity

to flotsam, along for the ride.

Here’s her website.

Considering last week’s thoughts on free will, this poem is timely. While the idea of putting “the whole thing in motion” simply by waking up (i.e. choosing, on a continual basis, to refuse suicide) might appear slightly ego-centric, in that the osprey (and gull and warbler, et al.) probably care little whether the author wakes up or not, it does at the same time evoke the connection to all things: the relationships that abound in a living ecosystem. And for that matter, simply existing in the world by definition changes it. And even further still, even suicide is as much an act as it is a negation of action. So, we can’t really help changing the course of history, once we’re born. In that regard, we have no choice but to make choices.

 

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“The concept of ecological restoration, as developed over the past 20 years, rests on the mistaken assumption that we can somehow bring back past ecosystems by removing invasive species and replanting native species. This overly simplistic view of the world ignores two basic tenets of modern ecology — that environmental stability is an illusion, and that an unpredictable future belongs to the best adapted.”  – Peter Del Tredici, The Flora of the Future

The Hostility of the Modern American Environment

According to this report in Time (yes, Time—I get lazy sometimes, reading-wise, okay?) honey bees in East Africa are doing better than their North American counterparts, mainly because they are less poisoned by pesticides, less restricted nutritionally by mono-crops, and moved around less:

What’s protected the Kenyan honey bees? African honeybees rarely encounter the sorts of pesticides that are in heavy use in American farms—and which pose a clear danger to American bees. The African bees also generally stay in one place, while the biggest honeybee keepers in the U.S. will move their colonies thousands of miles for major events like the California almond tree pollination, which requires an astounding 60% of all hives in the U.S. Without those additional stressors, the Kenyan honeybees seem capable of thriving even in the presence of dangerous pests.

The author of said report concludes: “As I wrote in our TIME cover story on the subject last year, it’s as if the modern American environment itself is hostile to the health of honeybees.”

Yes, it is as if industrial capitalism is hostile to the health of honeybees—and all living beings. Key insight.

But okay, since I’m often criticized for not acknowledging things that are going well, I’ll admit that this and similar reports are needed—and the more the better (why else would I write this blog if I didn’t think so?). But, as we all know, no amount of evidence, and no amount of publication of that evidence, is going to influence American (global) corporations to change course. We know the EPA won’t intervene, because it’s mostly headed by former CEOs, from companies like Monsanto and other upstanding stewards of the environment.

To think that the publication of evidence (“speaking out”, as the vague parlance goes) will move the needle in any significant way, in terms of corporations ceasing their wholesale destruction of the living earth, you would need to believe the following:

1. These corporations don’t already know this evidence, i.e. they don’t meticulously study their production process.

2. The heads of these corporations care about the consequences of their actions (those that don’t relate to profit, anyway).

3. The government is independent of these corporations.

4. The government has the power to influence these corporations according to the public will (or even a simple majority of citizens).

At which question did you stop reading due to spitting out your coffee over laughter? C’mon—we all know that nobody cares what you think unless you’re rich.

The Fall of Rome

A poem by W.H. Auden:

The piers are pummelled by the waves;
In a lonely field the rain
Lashes an abandoned train;
Outlaws fill the mountain caves.

Fantastic grow the evening gowns;
Agents of the Fisc pursue
Absconding tax defaulters through
The sewers of provincial towns.

Private rites of magic send
The temple prostitutes to sleep;
All the literati keep
An imaginary friend.

Cerebretonic Cato may
Extol the Ancient Disciplines,
But the muscle-bound Marines
Mutiny for food and pay.

Caesar’s double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK
On a pink official form.

Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

Did Rome fall because they used lead in all their pipes? Maybe.

John Noble Wilford believed a combination of gout and lead poisoning did the trick.

Of course, it matters little whether or not this proposed cause actually precipitated the collapse; what’s important is that the Romans knew of the dangers of lead and yet continued to use it—for plumbing, for mining, even for preparing food. According to this forum on Skeptics:

Lead was known to the ancients from at least the 4th millennium BC, but its use increased markedly during Roman times, to the extent that it became a health hazard. Mines and foundry furnaces caused air pollution; lead was extensively used in plumbing; domestic utensils were made of lead and pewter, and lead salts were used in cosmetics, medicines and paints. As a microbicide, lead was also used to preserve food. A grape juice concentrate (sapa) commonly used as a sweetener was prepared by preference in lead containers.

Just like the Easter Island tribes continued to eat rats until dying of sexually transmitted diseases (as a new theory goes), our oligarchy will poison the ground water to wring the last drops of natural gas from the living shale. History repeats itself—and, as Marx said, it does so twice: first as tragedy and then as farce.

Back to the poem: the last two stanzas give me goosebumps. Yes, it has an Ozymandias feel, but there’s also something more: seeing the decline of a civilization from the vantage of now-liberated animals. I think that when our civilization declines, our contemporary non-human co-inhabitants will similarly rejoice.

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“I had a lot of friends who were writing about climate change and doing a lot of good work on it. I was just listening and looking at the facts and thinking: Wow, we are really screwed here. We are not going to stop this from happening.”  – Paul Kingsnorth

It’s About Time We Accept that We Can’t Do Anything About Climate Change

When I speak about catastrophic climate change and the likelihood of near-term human extinction, I am often accused to “giving up” or choosing to “do nothing” about climate change. Even more charged for some is the notion of “living in hospice” which I argue is now the unequivocal predicament of our species. The typical rebuttal goes something like, “Instead of contemplating our navels or rolling over and preparing for death, we have to do something about climate change!”

Thus, I feel compelled to genuinely ask: What does it mean to actually “do something”?

This is how Carolyn Baker begins her latest piece at Nature Bats Last, and while she rattles off many substantive actions that can—and should—be taken, she concludes, much like I have, that some problems just don’t have solutions, i.e. when it comes to climate change, we’re fucked.

She says it better: “However, the tragic reality of our personal efforts, as noble or as fervent as they may be, is that they are not enough to prevent near-term human extinction.”

Baker also argues, again much like I have, that by trying to fix the problem, the global corporate-military elite will most likely make things worse, not better:

What is more, despite the efforts of some nations to “do something” about climate change, the harsh, cold (no pun intended) reality is that it is too little too late. Halldor Thorgeirsson, Senior Director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change remarked in September, 2013, stated, “We are failing as an international community. We are not on track.” Now realizing the dire state of warming due to inaction on climate change, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) asserts that “Global warming is irreversible without massive geoengineering of the atmosphere’s chemistry.” Of course, we already know that there is probably nothing that geo-engineering cannot make worse—for example the radical altering of rainfall patterns and the assertion by Live Science that “Current schemes to minimize the havoc caused by global warming by purposefully manipulating Earth’s climate are likely to either be relatively useless or actually make things worse, researchers say in a new study.” And earlier this month, Skeptical Science published an article entitled, “Alarming New Study Makes Today’s Climate Change More Comparable To Earth’s Worst Mass Extinction.” Moreover, according to the National Academy of Sciences “A Four-Degree Rise Will End Vegetation ‘Carbon Sink’ Research Suggests.”

So, as I’ve also written many times in the past, let’s stop concentrating on the dead end (pun intended) that is climate change, and concentrate on things we can do—er, not do, like having more children, building more suburbs, or digging up more flowers. In short, the reproductive justice movement is where it’s at. In the meantime, as hobbies we should all garden, ride bikes (and advocate others to join the trend), and learn lost skills. And above all, what we need is the building and developing of communities of support, so that in the short term humans and non-humans alike can enjoy our dwindling time and make the best of this terrible and rapidly deteriorating situation.