Category Archives: environmental pollution

The Mask of Anarchy – reblog from George Monbiot

My Comment:  While this piece is aimed more at the issue of Brexit and attendant serious drama, it shouldn’t be dismissed by any of us. The same “disaster capitalists” intent on turning Britain into a Third World country are just as hard at work undermining all social advancements made within our “democracies” wherever they may be still found. This is no longer a question of profit but of absolute madness.  My question is, are we going to continue to support the sickness or are we going to stop them?

The Mask of Anarchy

Posted: 11 Feb 2019 04:21 AM PST

Why disaster capitalists are praying for a no deal Brexit.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 8th February 2019

Part of me wants to smash it all up. I want to see the British bubble burst: the imperial nostalgia, the groundless belief in the inherent greatness of this nation, the casual dishonesty of those who govern us, the xenophobia, the intolerance, the denial, the complacency. I want those who have caused the coming disaster to own it, so that no one ever believes them again. No Deal Brexit? Bring it on.

Such dark thoughts do not last long. Then I remember it will be the poor who get hurt, first and worst. The rich leavers demanding the hardest of possible Brexits, with their offshore accounts, homes abroad and lavish pensions, will be all right. I remember the eerie silence of the City of London. While the bosses of companies producing goods and tangible services write anxious letters to the papers, the financial sector stays largely schtum. Shorting sterling is just the first of its possible gains.

The Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, caused by the IMF’s insistence that countries removed their capital controls, began with an attack by foreign speculators on Thailand’s baht. As currencies tanked and nations raised their interest rates, indebted companies went down like flies. Foreign corporations, particularly from the US, swept in and bought the most lucrative assets for a fraction of their value. Though the causes are different, it’s not hard to see something similar happening here. If it does, the City will clean up.

But this is not the end of it. What a no-deal Brexit might offer is the regulatory vacuum the Brextremists fantasise about. The public protections people have fought so hard for, that we obtained only through British membership of the EU – preventing water companies from pouring raw sewage into our rivers, power stations from spraying acid rain across the land, chemical companies from contaminating our food – are suddenly at risk.

In theory there are safeguards. The environment department has been frantically trying to fill the regulatory chasm. It has published more statutory instruments than any other ministry, and has drafted an Environment Bill, with plans for a watchdog to hold the government to account. But a series of massive questions remain, and none of them have easy answers.

The Environment Bill will not be put before parliament until after the Queen’s speech (probably in May). It won’t be passed until autumn, at the earliest. The green watchdog (the Office for Environmental Protection) will not materialise until 2021. During that time, there will be no body equivalent to the European Court of Justice to ensure that the government upholds the law. Instead, there will be a “holding arrangement”, with an undefined “mechanism” to receive reports of environmental lawbreaking, that the watchdog might be inclined to investigate when it eventually materialises.

Replacing just one of the EU’s environmental functions – registering new chemicals – requires, before March 29, a new IT system, new specialist evaluators, new monitoring and enforcement across several agencies and new government offices, filled with competent staff, to oversee the system, in the four nations of the UK. All this must happen while the government attends to scores of transformations on a similar scale. If the shops run out of food, hospitals can’t get medicine and the Good Friday Agreement falls apart, how much attention will it pay to breaches of environmental law?

Already, we are witnessing comprehensive regulatory collapse in the agencies, such as Natural England, charged with defending the living world, due to funding cuts. If they can’t do their job before we crash out, what chance do they have when the workload explodes, just as government budgets are likely to slump? The government’s nomination of Tony Juniper as Natural England’s new chair is a hopeful sign, though the general astonishment that an environmental regulator will be chaired by an environmental champion show just how bad things have become (since 2009, it has been run by people whose interests and attitudes were starkly at odds with their public duties). But the underlying problem Natural England faces will also hobble the green watchdog. Unlike the European Court of Justice, the Office for Environmental Protection will be funded and controlled by the government it seeks to hold to account.

Last week, the Guardian reported panic within government about the likely pileup of waste the UK currently exports to the EU, in the event of no deal. The combination of a rubbish crisis, administrative chaos and mass distraction could be horrible: expect widespread flytipping and pollution. So much for the extremists’ euphemism for no deal: “clean Brexit”.

The government’s commitment to upholding environmental standards relies to a remarkable extent on one man: the environment secretary, Michael Gove, who has so far doggedly resisted the demands of his fellow Leavers. Had any one of his grisly predecessors been in post – Owen Paterson, Liz Truss, Andrea Leadsom – we wouldn’t have even the theoretical protections Gove has commissioned. Boris Johnson has suggested that leaving the EU will allow us to dismantle green standards for electrical goods and environmental impact assessments. Iain Duncan Smith has pressed for the removal of the carbon floor price after Brexit, that has more or less stopped coal burning in the UK.

With Liam Fox in charge of trade policy, and the US demanding the destruction of food and environmental standards as the price of the trade deal he desperately seeks, nothing is safe. A joint trade review by the British and Indian governments contemplates reducing standards on pesticide residues in food and hormone-disrupting chemicals in toys. This must be heartening for Jacob Rees-Mogg (known in some circles as Re-smog), who has proposed that we might accept “emission standards from India”, one of the most polluted nations on earth. “We could say, if it’s good enough in India, it’s good enough for here.”

There is no guarantee that Michael Gove, the unlikely champion of public protection, will stay in his post after Brexit. If we crash out of Europe, the dark money that helped to buy Brexit will strive to use this opportunity to tear down our regulations: this, after all, was the point of the exercise. The tantalising prospect for the world’s pollutocrats is that the United Kingdom might become a giant export processing zone, exempt from the laws that govern other rich nations. It’s a huge potential prize, that could begin to reconfigure the global relationship between capital and governments. They will fight as hard and dirty to achieve it as they did to win the vote.

A combination of economic rupture, sudden shifts in ownership, an urgent desire to strike new trade deals and a possible regulatory abyss presents a golden opportunity for disaster capitalism. Our first task is to see it coming. Our second is to stop it.

http://www.monbiot.com

The Prophet Spoke Again

[thoughts from ~burning woman~ by Sha’Tara]

The Prophet spoke once more in the latter days, long after any had been and these be the things she said into the minds of those that would listen.

I am not bringing any good tidings, she said to them, therefore it is entirely up to you whether you listen, or fail to listen, for the message will be given even if only the stones of this world, the pavement of its streets or the girders of its highrises hear it.

You will have noticed that your world has changed once again, and in that change it has turned against you. You speak amongst yourselves of climate change; you debate whether it is the works of your own hands, of the world itself or perhaps a combination of both. You do not know and while you are confused, refusing to face the music you yourselves ordered to be written upon skies, seas and lands, you cannot dance. You but plod, and you weary yourselves with petty thoughts of greedy corporate executives and bankers, corrupt politicians and the endless charade of religion. Thinking yourselves wise, you have indeed made yourselves fools; the duck thinking to survive the winter in a child’s wading pool.

You seek answers where there are none! You deliberately ignore your history to fall ever and anon in the same trap your ancestors fell in and died in. You continue to believe that if you replace this puppet with that one; this god with another; this system with a more “environment friendly” one, you can carry on with just such light brush strokes on the old canvas; that you can carry on with no self-sacrifice, no purifying of heart, no transforming of mind, therefore no essential change.

But know this, if you cannot see it for yourselves: your canvas is rotten, even to the frame that holds it together.

That is the sum total of my tidings, to do with as you see fit. I did not come here to make the change for you, I came but to give warning. If you care about each other and particularly if you care about your own children, you will listen. If you do not, I may as well once again take the name of Cassandra and die in the fall of your great and impregnable city.

Is there any hope? I don’t “do” hope, but I am addressing people who believe in such things. So, look about you, anywhere, and see if there is anything truly new rising from your world; from within your many systems: anything you would bet your life and the life of your children upon? Anything that cannot be bought and sold in the global marketplace or corrupted beyond recognition in your high places of government, banking and worship?

Every prophet is mad, I as much as any other who has ever dared incarnate on this world and in my madness I dare imagine that some of you will ponder this and cry out, ‘Yes, we can see how it is coming apart,’ and add, ‘what should we then do?’

As I said, I am not here to give you answers, that was not part of my job description.

Let me remind you that everyone like myself who has come before and given you strict guidance and rules of conduct has been an abject failure because the teaching was imposed, it did not arise from within yourselves, thus it was powerless to change you. Go ahead, read your prophets, the full time, the part time, the ones you defamed, tortured and killed. You could do worse than re-reading “The Prophet” by Khalil Gibran. Read other way showers and rule givers and go as far as pondering the voices of those who called themselves saviours and see what you find these many years later.

I will give you hints though, even if it violates my strict self-imposed mandate. Simple hints. First, your civilization as you experience it and as you’ve known it throughout your very short history, is finished. Its days have been measures and found wanting.

Its very nature is inimical to the concept we call life. It has exceeded its limits to growth. It feeds entirely on bloodshed and destruction and many there are who profit from this and many more who rejoice in the results. That is its greatest sin from which it can neither be healed, or ever rise again.

Second hint: if you would do something that has a chance of bearing fruit, though it likely will be but for yourself as an individual, choose the path of the compassionate being. “How” is entirely up to you.

Quote: “A dominant myth is inclusive, in the sense that people feel lost without it. They can’t attribute any sort of human activity to anything else but the myth. They can’t see their way past it. They feel stymied without it.” (Jon Rappoport) and my added comment: “And what is civilization but a dominant myth?”

 

Political Satire, but, What if, or ‘Why not?’

[thoughts from    ~burning woman~    by Sha’Tara]

The creature I am about to describe here has earned itself many sobriquets over the recent years, months, even days and some are getting quite exotic. A few: (borrowed from  https://wolfessblog.wordpress.com/2018/12/12/to-the-end-of-the-loud-illiterate-pretender/

prictator, orangubrat, trumptard, dolt45, trumpussy, and my favourites, presidunce and Agolf Twitler. This set me to thinking about a fitting end to its presiduncy.

In a normal country (don’t worry, there aren’t any of these on this planet) the creature mentioned above, and I have to assume ya-all know by now what that is, wouldn’t be jailed, that’s too normal. Try to imagine the damage it could cause in a real people jail. I know that people in America seem quite unconcerned about the treatment of prisoners in the nation’s endless jail but there has to be a limit as to what helpless prisoners are exposed to.

No, definitely not a jail. It would be put in a zoo designed especially just for it.

The layout of the main retention area would be shaped like the oval office, naturally, we want it to believe it is still in its natural habitat after all.

McDooDoo and KFC would get the contracts to keep the creature fed.

It would be given a sturdy fake cell phone with tones on the buttons and a slobber-proof light-up screen so it could tweet at night.

It would be given stacks of monopoly money to fondle and some tough rubbery human-like dolls, child size and adult, with various coloration of non-white skin-like coverings so it could thrash them about when in a rage. It would also be given an over-sized golf driver to smash up the figures.  Part of the entertainment at this stage would be to hear its wild screams of, “Terrorist!  Rapist! Murderer! Fake refugee! Liar, Thief!”

There would, of course, be a large mud bath where it could go to cool off from the blistering sun where it would repeat some simple mantras like: “Climate change is fake news, fake news, fake news!!!!!” “MAGA, MAGA, MAGA, MAGA!!!!!” “Coal, coal, coal, oh so beautiful coal!!!!!” “Biggly, biggly, biggly, want more food!!!!!”

Near the visitor fence there would be a fake computer stand with a fake Mensa testing board that would ding loudly each time the creature pressed the very large, orange, *1000 POINTS!* button, at which in predictable Pavlovian response it would run to a small trap door where the big mac, large fries, Coke and fried chicken would appear to be ravenously gulped down .

Of the containment fencing, the south fence would be turned into a solid cement wall with these words engraved in it: “Mexico on the Other Side.” To drive the creature crazy (and for the additional entertainment value) there would be a hole in the wall just big enough to allow a human to crawl through and nothing available to plug the hole.

To keep the creature totally happy, if not deliriously so, there would be a full-sized mirror with the words in fake gold on top: PRESIDUNCE AGOLF TWITLER

With enough funding from amused patrons, the rest of the creature’s tribe could hopefully be housed in there also… 

I enjoy dreaming of great endings to otherwise pathetic dramas.

Biological Annihilation-a Planet in Loss Mode

 How to introduce such an article? I copied it verbatim from TomDispatch (http://www.tomdispatch.com/) and although I am certainly aware of the devastations being caused by “climate change” I am most certainly not ascribing most of it to climate change.  Rather it is obvious that our standing on the cusp of  an “extinction protocol” has mostly to do with Earthians consistently refusing to consider changing their lifestyles, their obsolete traditions and their belief systems – all of which are guaranteeing the end of civilization.  I therefore must introduce it with these hated words: How about “you” taking responsibility for the state of the world? You will say, “How?” and I can tell you that there is an endless list of effective “hows” by which you can make a difference. But not one of these efforts will mean anything if you don’t become the change you wish to engender.  That’s right: the only way to make change is to become the change.  It begins by caring as if your life and the lives of your loved ones, depended on it.  *By the way, it does*

Obvious question here: How long can we condemn all other sentient life on this planet to massive dieback and not bring it upon ourselves? When does the “bad predator” realize that the prey he killed off was essential to his own survival?   ~burning woman~

Biological Annihilation
A Planet in Loss Mode
By Subhankar Banerjee

If you’ve been paying attention to what’s happening to the nonhuman life forms with which we share this planet, you’ve likely heard the term “the Sixth Extinction.” If not, look it up.  After all, a superb environmental reporter, Elizabeth Kolbert, has already gotten a Pulitzer Prize for writing a book with that title.

Whether the sixth mass species extinction of Earth’s history is already (or not quite yet) underway may still be debatable, but it’s clear enough that something’s going on, something that may prove even more devastating than a mass of species extinctions: the full-scale winnowing of vast populations of the planet’s invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants.  Think of it, to introduce an even broader term, as a wave of “biological annihilation” that includes possible species extinctions on a mass scale, but also massive species die-offs and various kinds of massacres.

Someday, such a planetary winnowing may prove to be the most tragic of all the grim stories of human history now playing out on this planet, even if to date it’s gotten far less attention than the dangers of climate change.  In the end, it may prove more difficult to mitigate than global warming.  Decarbonizing the global economy, however hard, won’t be harder or more improbable than the kind of wholesale restructuring of modern life and institutions that would prevent species annihilation from continuing.   

With that in mind, come along with me on a topsy-turvy journey through the animal and plant kingdoms to learn a bit more about the most consequential global challenge of our time.

Insects Are Vanishing

When most of us think of animals that should be saved from annihilation, near the top of any list are likely to be the stars of the animal world: tigers and polar bears, orcas and orangutans, elephants and rhinos, and other similarly charismatic creatures.

Few express similar concern or are likely to be willing to offer financial support to “save” insects. The few that are in our visible space and cause us nuisance, we regularly swat, squash, crush, or take out en masse with Roundup.

As it happens, though, of the nearly two million known species on this planet about 70% of them are insects. And many of them are as foundational to the food chain for land animals as plankton are for marine life. Harvard entomologist (and ant specialist) E.O. Wilson once observed that “if insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”

In fact, insects are vanishing.

Almost exactly a year ago, the first long-term study of the decline of insect populations was reported, sparking concern (though only in professional circles) about a possible “ecological Armageddon.” Based on data collected by dozens of amateur entomologists in 63 nature reserves across Germany, a team of scientists concluded that the flying insect population had dropped by a staggering 76% over a 27-year period. At the same time, other studies began to highlight dramatic plunges across Europe in the populations of individual species of bugs, bees, and moths.

What could be contributing to such a collapse? It certainly is human-caused, but the factors involved are many and hard to sort out, including habitat degradation and loss, the use of pesticides in farming, industrial agriculture, pollution, climate change, and even, insidiously enough, “light pollution that leads nocturnal insects astray and interrupts their mating.”

This past October, yet more troubling news arrived.

When American entomologist Bradford Lister first visited El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico in 1976, little did he know that a long-term study he was about to embark on would, 40 years later, reveal a “hyperalarming” new reality. In those decades, populations of arthropods, including insects and creepy crawlies like spiders and centipedes, had plunged by an almost unimaginable 98% in El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest within the U.S. National Forest System. Unsurprisingly, insectivores (populations of animals that feed on insects), including birds, lizards, and toads, had experienced similarly dramatic plunges, with some species vanishing entirely from that rainforest. And all of that happened before Hurricane Maria battered El Yunque in the fall of 2017.

What had caused such devastation? After eliminating habitat degradation or loss — after all, it was a protected national forest — and pesticide use (which, in Puerto Rico, had fallen by more than 80% since 1969), Lister and his Mexican colleague Andres Garcia came to believe that climate change was the culprit, in part because the average maximum temperature in that rainforest has increased by four degrees Fahrenheit over those same four decades.

Even though both scientific studies and anecdotal stories about what might be thought of as a kind of insectocide have, at this point, come only from Europe and North America, many entomologists are convinced that the collapse of insect populations is a worldwide phenomenon.

As extreme weather events — fires, floods, hurricanes — begin to occur more frequently globally, “connecting the dots” across the planet has become a staple of climate-change communication to “help the public understand how individual events are part of a larger trend.”

Now, such thinking has to be transferred to the world of the living so, as in the case of plummeting insect populations and the creatures that feed on them, biological annihilation sinks in. At the same time, what’s driving such death spirals in any given place — from pesticides to climate change to habitat loss — may differ, making biological annihilation an even more complex phenomenon than climate change.

The Edge of the Sea

The animal kingdom is composed of two groups: invertebrates, or animals without backbones, and vertebrates, which have them. Insects are invertebrates, as are starfish, anemones, corals, jellyfish, crabs, lobsters, and many more species. In fact, invertebrates make up 97% of the known animal kingdom.

In 1955, environmentalist Rachel Carson’s book The Edge of the Sea was published, bringing attention for the first time to the extraordinary diversity and density of the invertebrate life that occupies the intertidal zone.  Even now, more than half a century later, you’ve probably never considered that environment — which might be thought of as the edge of the sea (or actually the ocean) — as a forest. And neither did I, not until I read nature writer Tim McNulty’s book Olympic National Park: A Natural History some years ago. As he pointed out: “The plant associations of the low tide zone are commonly arranged in multistoried communities, not unlike the layers of an old-growth forest.” And in that old-growth forest, the starfish (or sea star) rules as the top predator of the nearshore.

In 2013, a starfish die-off — from a “sea-star wasting disease” caused by a virus — was first observed in Washington’s Olympic National Park, though it was hardly confined to that nature preserve. By the end of 2014, as Lynda Mapes reported in the Seattle Times, “more than 20 species of starfish from Alaska to Mexico” had been devastated. At the time, I was living on the Olympic Peninsula and so started writing about and, as a photographer, documenting that die-off (a painful experience after having read Carson’s exuberant account of that beautiful creature).

The following summer, though, something magical happened. I suddenly saw baby starfish everywhere. Their abundance sparked hope among park employees I spoke with that, if they survived, most of the species would bounce back. Unfortunately, that did not happen. “While younger sea stars took longer to show symptoms, once they did, they died right away,” Mapes reported. That die-off was so widespread along the Pacific coast (in many sites, more than 99% of them) that scientists considered it “unprecedented in geographic scale.”
Baby Starfish, Olympic National Park. Photo by Subhankar Banerjee, 2015.

The cause? Consider it the starfish version of a one-two punch: the climate-change-induced warming of the Pacific Ocean put stress on the animals while it made the virus that attacked them more virulent.  Think of it as a perfect storm for unleashing such a die-off.

It will take years to figure out the true scope of the aftermath, since starfish occupy the top of the food chain at the edge of the ocean and their disappearance will undoubtedly have cascading impacts, not unlike the vanishing of the insects that form the base of the food chain on land.

Concurrent with the disappearance of the starfish, another “unprecedented” die-off was happening at the edge of the same waters, along the Pacific coast of the U.S. and Canada.  It seemed to be “one of the largest mass die-offs of seabirds ever recorded,” Craig Welch wrote in National Geographic in 2015. And many more have been dying ever since, including Cassin’s auklets, thick-billed murres, common murres, fork-tailed petrels, short-tailed shearwaters, black-legged kittiwakes, and northern fulmars. That tragedy is still ongoing and its nature is caught in the title of a September article in Audubon magazine: “In Alaska, Starving Seabirds and Empty Colonies Signal a Broken Ecosystem.”

To fully understand all of this, the dots will again have to be connected across places and species, as well as over time, but the great starfish die-off is an indication that biological annihilation is now an essential part of life at the edge of the sea.

The Annihilation of Vertebrates

The remaining 3% of the kingdom Animalia is made up of vertebrates. The 62,839 known vertebrate species include fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.

The term “biological annihilation” was introduced in 2017 in a seminal paper by scientists Geraldo Ceballos, Paul Ehrlich, and Rodolpho Dirzo, whose research focused on the population declines, as well as extinctions, of vertebrate species. “Our data,” they wrote then, “indicate that beyond global species extinctions Earth is experiencing a huge episode of population declines and extirpations.”

If anything, the 148-page Living Planet Report published this October by the World Wildlife Fund International and the Zoological Society of London only intensified the sense of urgency in their paper. As a comprehensive survey of the health of our planet and the impact of human activity on other species, its key message was grim indeed: between 1970 and 2014, it found, monitored populations of vertebrates had declined in abundance by an average of 60% globally, with particularly pronounced losses in the tropics and in freshwater systems. South and Central America suffered a dramatic loss of 89% of such vertebrates, while freshwater populations of vertebrates declined by a lesser but still staggering 83% worldwide. The results were based on 16,704 populations of 4,005 vertebrate species, which meant that the study was not claiming a comprehensive census of all vertebrate populations.  It should instead be treated as a barometer of trends in monitored populations of them.

What could be driving such an annihilatory wave to almost unimaginable levels? The report states that the main causes are “overexploitation of species, agriculture, and land conversion — all driven by runaway human consumption.” It does, however, acknowledge that climate change, too, is a “growing threat.”

When it comes to North America, the report shows that the decline is only 23%. Not so bad, right? Such a statistic could mislead the public into thinking that the U.S. and Canada are in little trouble and yet, in reality, insects and other animals, as well as plants, are dying across North America in surprisingly large numbers.

From My Doorstep to the World Across Time

My own involvement with biological annihilation started at my doorstep. In March 2006, a couple of days after moving into a rented house in northern New Mexico, I found a dead male house finch, a small songbird, on the porch. It had smashed into one of the building’s large glass windows and died. At the same time, I began to note startling numbers of dead piñon, New Mexico’s state tree, everywhere in the area. Finding that dead bird and noting those dead trees sparked a desire in me to know what was happening in this new landscape of mine.

When you think of an old-growth forest — and here I don’t mean the underwater version of one but the real thing — what comes to your mind? Certainly not the desert southwest, right? The trees here don’t even grow tall enough for that.  An 800-year-old piñon may reach a height of 24 feet, not the 240-feet of a giant Sitka spruce of similar age in the Pacific Northwest. In the last decade, however, scientists have begun to see the piñon-juniper woodlands here as exactly that.

I first learned this from a book, Ancient Piñon-Juniper Woodlands: A Natural History of Mesa Verde Country. It turns out that this low-canopy, sparsely vegetated woodland ecosystem supports an incredible diversity of wildlife. In fact, as a state, New Mexico has among the greatest diversity of species in the country.  It’s second in diversity of native mammals, third in birds, and fourth in overall biodiversity. Take birds.  Trailing only California and Arizona, the state harbors 544 species, nearly half of the 1,114 species in the U.S. And consider this not praise for my adopted home, but a preface to a tragedy.

Before I could even develop a full appreciation of the piñon-juniper woodland, I came to realize that most of the mature piñon in northern New Mexico had already died. Between 2001 and 2005, a tiny bark beetle known by the name of Ips confusus had killed more than 50 million of them, about 90% of the mature ones in northern New Mexico. This happened thanks to a combination of severe drought and rapid warming, which stressed the trees, while providing a superb environment for beetle populations to explode.
Dead finch on my porch. Photo by Subhankar Banerjee, 2006.

And this, it turned out, wasn’t in any way an isolated event. Multiple species of bark beetles were by then ravaging forests across the North American West. The black spruce, the white spruce, the ponderosa pine, the lodgepole pine, the whitebark pine, and the piñon were all dying.

In fact, trees are dying all over the world. In 2010, scientists from a number of countries published a study in Forest Ecology and Management that highlights global climate-change-induced forest mortality with data recorded since 1970. In countries ranging from Argentina and Australia to Switzerland and Zimbabwe, Canada and China to South Korea and Sri Lanka, the damage to trees has been significant.

In 2010, trying to absorb the larger ecological loss, I wrote: “Hundreds of millions of trees have recently died and many more hundreds of millions will soon be dying. Now think of all the other lives, including birds and animals, that depended on those trees. What happened to them and how do we talk about that which we can’t see and will never know?”

In fact, in New Mexico, we are finally beginning to find out something about the size and nature of that larger loss.

Earlier this year, Los Alamos National Laboratory ornithologist Jeanne Fair and her colleagues released the results of a 10-year bird study on the Pajarito Plateau of New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains, where some of the worst piñon die-offs have occurred. The study shows that, between 2003 and 2013, the diversity of birds declined by 45% and bird populations, on average, decreased by a staggering 73%. Consider the irony of that on a plateau whose Spanish name, Pajarito, means “little bird.”

The piñon die-off that led to the die-off of birds is an example of connecting the dots across species and over time in one place. It’s also an example of what writer Rob Nixon calls “slow violence.” That “slowness” (even if it’s speedy indeed on the grand calendar of biological time) and the need to grasp the annihilatory dangers in our world will mean staying engaged way beyond any normal set of news cycles.  It will involve what I think of as long environmentalism.

Let’s return, then, to that dead finch on my porch. A study published in 2014 pointed out that as many as 988 million birds die each year in the U.S. by crashing into glass windows. Even worse, domestic and feral cats kill up to 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion small mammals annually in this country. In Australia and Canada, two other places where such feline slaughters of birds have been studied, the estimated numbers are 365 million and 200 million respectively — another case of connecting the dots across places and species when it comes to the various forms of biological annihilation underway on this planet.
Dead piñon where birds gather in autumn, northern New Mexico. Photo by Subhankar Banerjee, 2009.

Those avian massacres, one the result of modern architecture and our desire to see the outside from the inside, the other stemming from our urge for non-human companionship, indicate that climate change is but one cause of a planet-wide trend toward biological annihilation.  And this is hardly a contemporary story.  It has a long history, including for instance the mass killing of Arctic whales in the seventeenth century, which generated so much wealth that it helped make the Netherlands into one of the richest nations of that time. In other words, Arctic whaling proved to be an enabler of the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic, the era when Rembrandt and Vermeer made paintings still appreciated today.

The large-scale massacre and near extinction of the American bison (or buffalo) in the nineteenth century, to offer a more modern example, paved the way for white settler colonial expansion into the American West, while destroying Native American food security and a way of life. As a U.S. Army colonel put it then, “Kill every buffalo you can! Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.”

Today, such examples have not only multiplied drastically but are increasingly woven into human life and life on this planet in ways we still hardly notice.  These, in turn, are being exacerbated by climate change, the human-induced warming of the world. To mitigate the crisis, to save life itself, would require not merely the replacement of carbon-dirty fossil fuels with renewable forms of energy, but a genuine reevaluation of modern life and its institutions. In other words, to save the starfish, the piñon, the birds, and the insects, and us in the process, has become the most challenging and significant ethical obligation of our increasingly precarious time.

Subhankar Banerjee, a TomDispatch regular, is an activist, artist, and public scholar. A professor of art and ecology, he holds the Lannan Chair at the University of New Mexico. He is currently writing a book on biological annihilation.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2018 Subhankar Banerjee

 

There is a Tree

A Short Story… from the thoughts of  ~burning woman~

That was a long time ago, in those mythical times when there were trees. Yes, trees. Wooden things that grew tall and proud, so many of them, waving their branches and shaking their leaves in the winds of summer. They were beautiful, so say the tales, but the problem was, they grew taller than men and this made men feel small and insignificant.

Men do not appreciate being made to feel small and insignificant. Nature, and anything else not man-made, should have learned that lesson, but of course it didn’t and men grew to be more and more angry at not being recognized for their skills and strength. All was not well on the world and a reckoning was in the making.

I need to remind you, once again, that this is but a tale I learned from my own grandmother so I don’t want you to take it to heart. There never were any such things as trees, of course, but it is a good story. Since your ‘breather’ isn’t working and you have to remain in this oxygen balanced room and you’re not allowed your devices, I though you’d like a story, even if I make some of it up as there is nothing to read such imaginary tales from. I’m trusting my memory here. When you feel tired and want to sleep again I’ll stop.

“I’m OK grandma. I’d love a story.”

Good. So, as the story went, men decided, not altogether mind, but bit by bit and here and there that trees had to go: they were a constant reminder that a man soon stopped growing whereas trees continued long after a man died, adding insult to injury. It seemed to man that trees spent their entire long lives inventing ways to belittle humanity. Other forms of life had done so too, like those tales of man-eating predators but these had long ago been eradicated. There were stories of rocky outcroppings, hills, canyons, mountains even, and these too had been filled and flattened and anything of value found within had been extracted to build man’s new world: the endless city.

But the trees, they insisted on growing, even upon rocky plateaus that had been flattened down. They just would not stop. Men gritted their teeth at these and vowed to put an end to their insolence. The trees, like dinosaurs, unicorns, buffaloes, tigers, lions, bears, moose, well, anything growing or standing that surpassed man’s height, would be eradicated.

There was really nothing formally said about it, it was just a sense of what’s right. Trees were wrong, man was right and right makes might, so your great-great grandma put it. Man was the Mighty, nothing else would be permitted to challenge that.

It happened one day, globally, that men went out and attacked all the trees, felling and felling. Years passed and trees disappeared with each until only shrubs remained and these were given to the children to destroy by cutting, hacking and pulling up of roots. Seeds were collected in big sacks, stacked up in open fields and burned. Such a burning there was, year after year, and the smoke covered the entire world. Grandma said that many people got sick from the smoke and died. That’s why we all wear the ‘breathers’ now even though there is no longer any smoke.

“I thought you said this was only a tale. How can a make-believe story make the world bad for us that we have to wear ‘breathers’ to stay alive, grandma?”

I will explain, don’t interrupt or it makes no sense anymore. Follow the images, don’t question any of it, not yet. At the end of the story and over the next days there will be time for questions and explanations. You’re old enough to understand that, boy.

So they killed all the trees; they hacked away all the shrubs and they burned all the seeds. Man was pleased with the results because the trees had been home to much other life that preyed upon man’s fields and crops. Without the trees to shelter birds and rodents, these mostly died off and crops were no longer molested except by insects which the Global Environmental Protection Agencies took care of with a multitude of ever-more potent insecticides. Other pests, like weeds, were controlled by herbicides and food became plentiful again thanks to our genetically modified seeds. Without competition for space and food, people were once again able to reproduce at will thus providing much labour for the City Builders.

Now you can live on a clean world, not polluted by natural events, or messy things that refuse to conform to our ways. Buildings are air-conditioned and filtered. When you are a bit older you will be trained to work in the city and you will be guaranteed space to sleep in, and food will be available to you as long as you work hard, which is only to be expected. Do you know how lucky your are for the great vision that built this world?

“What does ‘rationing’ mean, grandma?”

That is a word you must forget. It is enemies of our system that invented the idea there isn’t enough food to go around and the Government has to ration, or limit, how much each person gets. None of that, of course, is true but it confuses people. Do not get confused. Things are as you see them and you see them as our leaders tell you to see them. Simple and no confusion because it cannot be otherwise. Do you understand me?

“I am not sure grandma. In school, away from the monitors, kids talk. Some of the sicker kids have died because their water was not clean; they call it pollution. What about that?”

Listen to me, boy. That word, ‘pollution’ is a dangerous word. Nature pollutes the world. It is man’s task to make sure it remains clean from natural pollution. So you be careful how you learn to understand that word. Kids like to spread gossip against leaders and that is a bad thing. Leaders become so because they know more than anyone else. When we disagree with them we weaken the entire system and that’s when problems start. Don’t be a destroyer, boy. Be a believer and you will have a good place in the System. Destroyers are the enemies and they have to be reported to thought police agents, the TP.

Now then, try to imagine this: there is one lone tree growing on a plain somewhere and it is so strong that nothing man does can stop it. Soon it begins to shed leaves, making a mess on the ground. Mice and other things begin to feed and multiply from there. Then it grows seeds, the winds come and the seeds are spread far and wide so that it becomes impossible to get them all. Within a few years new indestructible trees are born and they grow and grow. Remnants of predatory birds and other animals return to the trees and there are forays into our crop fields. Yields go down and then, yes, you can use the term ‘rationing’ because there will no longer be enough food to feed everybody. Nature, you see, is a thief and it takes without giving anything back. It is the enemy, make no mistake. We need to be constantly vigilant to ensure that our way of life remains safe and unpolluted.

“Grandma, where do people go when they die?”

Why would you ask such a silly question, boy?

“My best friend, her name is Sally, her little sister died last week. Sally was crying and she asked me where her little sister went. I didn’t know what to say. Where did she go, Grandma?”

You really are a stupid boy, aren’t you. When you die, you die, what do you think? Have you met anyone who’d died and come back? Let’s have no more of this superstitious nonsense, you’re much too old for that. Besides, that’s just the kind of thinking the TP would be interested in. Do the right thing: report your friend. She’s an enemy and needs reprogramming. That’s not the sort of thing you want to happen to you boy. Survival of the fittest, that’s our motto, right? Remember that tree: that’s the symbol of man’s greatest enemy. If that tree finds a foothold in the world, we are doomed. Be vigilant.

As the old lady stands and wraps her shawl around skinny shoulders and pulls back her thinning grey hair, the boy asks, “You’re going now, grandma?”

Yes, I have to meet with a TP agent regarding our neighbour Raoul Janzik. He’s been spreading rumours about just the sort of thing I warned you about. He’s been saying there is a Tree, boy. Imagine the gall to claim such lies as truth. He must, he will, be silenced.

Report to Galactic Headquarters

(a short sci-fi story… from Sha’Tara)

For: Leon Battera, Receiver

From: Apia-Di Loro III, Observation ship, OmaTe

Date: Cycle 286-87-1902 per Pleiadian Time Accounting.

Begin:

I have discovered an ancient world sparsely populated by intelligent sentience. Per my orders, I am orbiting this world on six different parameters taking soundings and recordings.

The sentience speaks as-yet unrecorded languages and I have instructed my translator to begin working on it. However, due to the vast confusion of spoken languages, this may take some time.

The world has much water on it but much appears to be non-potable and what should be potable appears to carry unusual amounts of radiation and trace pollutants inimical to the local flora and fauna. Samplings of air quality also reveal high levels of radiation and an unnatural dearth of oxygen.

I have run my findings through my analyzer. This world will require personal investigation as it is obvious it experienced a terrible catastrophe as recently as five to ten thousand years ago. As per my orders I must ascertain whether this unnatural catastrophe was caused by an invasion, or by the locals themselves although at first scan, these people have no technology, certainly nothing capable of such devastation indicated by my scans.

There is evidence of very large cities having once existed, now nothing but ruins. There are no roads. The people, it seems, live in small villages of huts made from mud and grasses; in some places, from twigs or bones.  I have noted smoke rising from the mouth of caves also.

What happened here? My mind is burning with questions. I am leaving my AI in command and taking my lander down to the planet.

Apia-Di Loro: AI, have I taken all necessary precautions and availed myself of proper protection?

AI: All is optimum. Ready for launch.

I am landed in a hidden depression on a broad plain covered in coarse grass. First analysis: radiation poisoning but dwindling. There is a village of sorts some ways from my hidden lander. I am making for it. It is difficult to separate the bipedal humanoid sentients from many other sentients so proceeding with care.

Of important note: I come upon an inscription of sorts on a plaque. The plaque material appears to be some metal alloy and is very old. I set the translator to transcribe what can be seen of the inscription and while it is doing so I wander around, careful to retain my cloaking. I hear an animal bleat and over a small rise comes a young woman leading a dozen animals which my portable unit refers to as “goats”.

Another animal follows the young woman, or girl rather. The animal circles the “goats” and keeps them walking in a specific direction. It is called a “dog”. The woman/girl is known as a shepherdess according to my portable translator. Meaning: she has charge of the animals and the “dog” animal helps her.

I’m in need of some verbal communication to talk to her so I return to my translator by the ancient plaque. This is what the translator shows me:

My name is Do-ald Trum-. I am the Presid–t of the mightiest nat— on e-rth. I have the p-wer to –nihil-te any nation or allian–s of na–on- that chall-nge my -ill. My fing-r is -lways -n th- butt-n. Be afraid, be v-ry -fr-id. -istory wil- r-memb– me as t– gre–est, mos- power-ul man who ever lived- – am mak-ng Amer-c- gr–t agai-

It was enough to formulate a rudimentary understanding of the language. The computer had no problem filling in the missing letters. Accompanied by the translator I return to the shepherdess and her animals. Before I uncloak myself I study her. She is very thin to the point of emaciation and her hair is sparse and dull. Her limbs are obviously deformed, a mutation from the radiation. Her right leg is shorter than the other and that foot has no toes. Her left arm terminates with a few knobs that were meant to be fingers, approximately where the elbow should be. Her clothing is inadequate, little more than patched rags. I feel a great pang of empathetic sadness knowing this would be the case for most of her people.

I try to imagine hundreds of millions of such mutants surviving in the most primitive and terrible of conditions, prone to disease and sudden temperature changes, always hungry, and the worst of it: not knowing why they are thus being “punished”. 

Having some verbal communication ability via the translator, I uncloak myself slowly and pretend I’d been walking towards her, a stranger crossing the prairie. Upon seeing me, she stands abruptly and raises her stick. The dog gives a half-dozen perfunctory warning barks. Fortunately my female form takes some of her fear of me away and she waits, though ready to run. I signal I am unarmed and try a greeting through the translator. She remains mute, obviously uncomprehending. I try other words and I see that she is listening intently but not understanding.

Finally, I point to the plaque and ask who this Donald Trump is, or was. She looks at the plaque as if she never noticed it before and shrugs and shakes her head to indicate she doesn’t know. I realize then that her language has nothing to do with what is on the plaque and in any case she cannot read. I conclude then that these are survivor remnants of some terrible war, for war it had to be as I can easily infer from the contents of the plaque. These people have no history and what language they possess has only immediate survival value.

The girl is still standing, rigid and uncertain, ready to bolt. To help her relax I slowly turn away to disappear in the tall grasses. Ironically the dog creature circles me and coming to the plaque, relieves itself upon it. I think it a very fitting gesture even if the creature does not realize the symbolism of its act.

My dear Leon, I will give you a much more thorough report when I return to the OmaTe. Meanwhile, I need not tell you this is a terrible heart-breaker of a world. Let me know as soon as you can if I should remain in orbit here and if it is necessary for me to make other landings. More importantly advise me, please, on what Galactic Planetary Health Consortium plans to do about this discovery; if it will intervene on behalf of these people. They desperately need our help Leon.

More details to follow soon. I remain, your Apia-Di.

It’s a Wonderful World (isn’t it?)

“I see trees of green – Red roses too – I see em bloom – For me and for you
And I think to myself…. What a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue – Clouds of white – Bright blessed days – Dark sacred nights
And I think to myself….. What a wonderful world.

The colors of a rainbow – So pretty – In the sky – Are also on the faces – Of people – Going by – I see friends shaking hands – Sayin – How do you do – They’re really sayin – I love you.

I hear babies cry – I watch them grow – They’ll learn much more – Than I’ll never know
And I think to myself – What a wonderful world…”

… and I think to myself… what have you been snorting, or sniffing?

I just finished my day’s work, and scanning through a hundred emails, you know, looking for  whatever might stir my imagination. Well, imagine my surprise to find messages about Donald Trump, anthropological climate change, Canada sending “training” troops to Iraq; Venezuela on the verge of being invaded by the US for daring to choose a national path rather than one dictated by Washington… then stuff on Brexit and more trade wars. All in all, it’s a Wonderful World, isn’t it?

“There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” – yeah, heard that one a time or two. And if that’s the case, we’re about to see a lot of light coming through in the coming years.

I’m relaxing with a glass of white wine and some munchies, watching the movie, “Last Love”. The complaint about that movie was, it’s too dragged out; too slow, but I don’t find it so. Does everything have to happen in a panic? Do we always have to be speeding down that road to arrive nowhere? What’s the rush?

I’m thinking, not that it’s such a wonderful world, but that we, as a species, collectively and subconsciously, are facing a mass extinction event and perhaps, also subconsciously, because of one, huge, unavoidable and massive collective sense of guilt, just want to get it over with. Maybe we don’t want to see our grand children, and great grand children, die in horrible circumstances, in conditions that never need to have come about had we chosen not to listen to demagogues of bullshit; had we chosen not to feed our Earthian hubris, greed, sense of entitlement, opportunism, bigotry, and the standard stance I’d label as rank stupidity. So, instead of doing something really “real” to change the direction this society is tumbling in, let’s just take that fast lane to nowhere so as not to have time to think about real and serious alternatives.

It should come as no surprise if I wrote here that having a nice house, a hot tub, a barbecue, is really more important to most people than the future of their progeny. “Après moi, le déluge!” To hell with the future, eat drink and be merry for tomorrow, we die.

I’ve been observing the people who talk a good game about climate change and other possibly catastrophic developments for the planet, and guess what? Sure people talk a good game but how many seriously change their lifestyle, their expectations, to show how legitimate their concerns are? How many change the way they think about a corrupt and dying system? What I see is people desperate to hang on to the bit of pretend stability this bloody system is giving them.

How would one honestly answer those charges? An important question because ultimately, you realize, it won’t be the Trumps of this world who will make the real difference when it comes crashing down, it will be the, let’s see what could one call them, that silent uncaring majority of sheeple, of unwashed masses, of deplorables, the 99% who insist on blaming “the rich” and “the elites” for the sad state of the planet while going on emulating them in every possible little ugly way.

Let me reiterate this: if blame is to be attached to one group of people for the sad state of this world, let it be put on the shoulders of those who deserve it: all, except the leaders, elites, rich, bosses, rulers or whatever. They don’t matter; they don’t make the final decisions; they aren’t the ones condemning your grand children to poverty, famine and early death from wars and a collapsing ecosystem. They don’t fight the wars, remember? You do! They don’t even make shit and they don’t consume it, you do. They make laws and don’t live by them, you do. Pathetic, isn’t it? 99% of a population of intelligent sentience lets itself be destroyed by an ignorant, subhuman one percentile clique. Indeed, how pathetic is that?

“About here, she thought, dabbling her fingers in the water, a ship had sunk, and she murmured, dreamily, half asleep, how we perished, each alone. — Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse.”