Category Archives: Materialistism

“Life Aboard Ship”

[a short story, by Sha’Tara]

Star date: 190623-I haven’t spent as much time on this as I would have liked to but I am choosing to post now rather than wait two weeks when I return from an “Island” job. There is no internet where I’ll be working, though I will be doing some limited blogging on my cell phone. “Enjoy” this bleak story – it is what my heart is showing me these days.
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“Maybe what I really need is sleep, he said to himself. A sort of twilight of living, with only the background sound of Beethoven audible. All the rest a blur.

No, he decided; I want to be! I want to act and accomplish something. And every year it becomes more necessary. Every year, too, it slips further and further away.” (A Maze of Death – Philip K. Dick)

I awoke, as does everyone sooner or later, aboard a strange craft, a ship that sailed through emptiness, bound for nowhere; a ship that would never find a port of call or ever crash on any shore. I knew this long ago, although no one ever spoke of it. In the daytime, the closest non-ship entity one could see was, of course, the sun. At night, if one happened to be on deck, one could see the stars out there, forever out of reach, the ship never getting any closer to any one of them. Sometimes one could see the moon, and although much closer than any star, or sun, it too remained aloof, at an unreachable distance.

One did not board the Ship, one was born on it and was automatically made a member of the crew. Everyone on board was crew, no exceptions. What you did as crew was determined by others and their perceived, claimed or stated needs.

Since Ship itself was quite automated, there really was nothing to do as far as sailing it. So crew served crew until that was the only thing that anyone knew how to do. The more people were born on Ship, the more it all became self-serving, with those who became leaders demanding more from their underlings. Of course the underlings had to find ways to please their masters so they learned to delve down into Ship to find resources that could be made into objects that would please or titillate the masters. Most of us became resource extractors, all to stay alive, some to seek promotions.

I don’t know the exact day, but an idea came to me: what was the point of all that? Who were we all, why were we on Ship and where were we going? I stopped my drilling, much to the annoyance of my partner, and sat down to think about this.

Where did I come from? Nowhere. Where was I going? Nowhere. What was then the point of my existence? There was none. Even if I found the strength and motivation to fulfill and surpass my quota of diamonds; even if I finally got a promotion, I would be old and near death by then. What could I expect then? Nothing. I would cease and my body would be thrown overboard, as all were except for the Captains and other rich and powerful who had themselves encased in crystal caskets and buried with much pomp and ceremony down the empty shafts of what had been our most productive mines. The shafts were then sealed and commemorative plaques put on the entrances. I leave the question with you: how much better off were these rich dead than the dead flung overboard?

Although I would become one of the outcasts, I left the mine and went up on deck to feel the noonday sun and the wind; to hear the waves beat against the hull and listen to the endless sounds of people everywhere talking, laughing, crying, cursing, praying, cheering and some even singing. These people were, in a sense, alive, but what is life without purpose except to satisfy the immediate, to seek a bit more pleasure or to avoid punishment for any and all reasons? It seemed to me that they were simply going through the motions of something they believed in, not as happening now, but as some sort of hope that it would happen by and by.

I do not need to tell you that there were many varieties of official and quasi-official beliefs aboard Ship that most people adhered to. The gist of those beliefs was that one’s soul would go to another ship once separated from one’s dead body and life would be vastly improved in that new place. The new masters would be benign and merciful… of course.

I asked myself why people believed such things when no one could furnish any evidence of their truthfulness? There was a simple enough answer: why not, when life on Ship was general misery and pointlessness and there was nothing better to believe in? If nothing came of it after one’s death, one would be none the wiser. Meantime this bit of hope made life’s tenuousness, fear and misery a bit easier to bear. It was a simple mechanism grossly exploited, of course, by those who pretended to know about life after death. 

Without dependents being an outcast is not as bad as it sounds. You can use your skills to help others and be paid back in food, clothes and temporary shelter. Survival is not difficult when one has been toughened in mining for diamonds deep in the lower bowels of Ship. On deck at least there is a pretense of freedom; there is fresh air, water can be skimmed from water barrels, left-overs and discards can be looked through before they are incinerated or recycled.

Thus I lived the later years of my life and thus I discovered a new ‘connection’ to Ship. It came to me gradually that Ship was talking to me, had always been talking to me but the people noise had blocked Ship’s communications from my mind. Now that I had more freedom I could, and did, move away from people whenever possible and in relative quiet I heard Ship.

I hadn’t known that Ship was aware of what the people were doing on board and in particular, how they were damaging Ship by their greedy delving for ever more esoteric ‘resources’ below deck and down, down, into its deepest accessible bowels. Ship’s voice was sad.

‘You are killing me,’ she said to me in an old woman’s voice, ‘and when I die, you will all die too. That should be obvious to as intelligent a race as yours but somehow your lack of purpose has deadened your understanding of cause and effect. Where are your logicians? Where you philosophers? Where is your empathy? When those things die, you die. No intelligent, sentient and self aware species can guide itself without logic, philosophy and empathy.’

What happens now, Ship?’

‘Like you I am going to die. My lifeless hulk will continue to haunt this orbit for millions of your years. Perhaps, in time beyond time I will return and bring it back to life again so I can be another ark. Perhaps.’

‘Everything, everyone, on board will die then?’

‘Yes, everything.’

Dogville Revisited

[a rant by   ~burning woman~   ]

The 2003 psychological thriller Dogville depicts a bigoted community that accepts to harbour a fugitive from the mob but decides she would have to pay a price. The movie goes on to demonstrate how the price she must pay keeps going up, so high that in the end she is near death when her pursuers finally find her. Then comes the interesting twist as Grace’s terrible secret is revealed.

What is planet earth, in particular the “First World” but a Dogville? The only people who “have” are those who find the means to exploit those who have less, or have nothing except the land they live on, unless it’s their bodies that can be sold for slave labour, prostitution, whatever makes a profit. It’s no secret that we of the West are the “haves” and that the rest of the world has been paying an ever-higher price to us just to stay alive while we maintain our consumer lifestyles. So far, no exaggeration. But there is more, much more.

It isn’t enough that the poor are disenfranchised, dispossessed, persecuted and murdered in their own lands. If they manage to escape they must then become the scapegoats through which the self-righteous Dogvillians can continue to justify their enslavement, thefts of resources, rapes and open murdering rampages. After having been forced from their lands, no matter where they go, they will face resentment, hate, be ostracized, reviled, endlessly exploited and as just happened in New Zealand, massacred.

So one Dogvillian decides to be less hypocritical, more open than the rest, and turns his guns on helpless people in a mosque and all hell breaks loose. Yet two days before the massacre in Christchurch, US artillery massacred 50 civilians in the village of Baghouz, and quote: “On Monday, US warplanes attacked Baghouz, killing at least 50 people. Details on what the intended target was is unclear, but the reports suggest that the dead were mostly women and children… In the past few months, US airstrikes backing the SDF offensive have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians. With thousands of civilians still believed to be in Baghouz, the US strikes are undermining the SDF’s effort to convince them to leave, by showing that those who try to leave may be targeted.” (End quote) (https://talesfromtheloublog.wordpress.com/2019/03/13/us-airstrikes-kill-at-least-50-mostly-civilians-in-eastern-syria/

My point here is very simple: where are the screaming headlines, the heads of state standing at their podiums, the social media erupting with indignant cries against war crimes and institutionalized mass murder in Syria? All I heard was dead silence, and that happened just a few days before Christchurch. Well, that, plus it’s been happening for years, witness the refugee crisis. Where is your outcry over those murders?

So my question is simple: why is it totally acceptable to murder women and children in an undeclared hence “unofficial” war but it suddenly become opprobrious if the same or lesser crimes are committed by individuals? Who is the greatest criminal here? On one hand a malcontent, or a few of them, gun down some people in a building, or an arena. On the other hand, all members of any self-styled democracy are in agreement with the massacre of innocent civilians in places where the killer, the aggressor, has no business being. One massacre is widely and openly deplored while a greater massacre lasting years is not just tolerated but openly funded, justified, rationalized and everybody sleeps soundly knowing the bombs are falling like rain “where they should.” Western hypocrisy astounds me.

I’ll tell you this, people of the Warmongering West: Grace, the helpless dispossessed being exploited and murdered by you as willing participants and cheering spectators in these hunger games have a terrible secret. You’re all about to find out what that is. Maybe it’s time to watch the movie Dogville again. You might see many faces you recognize.

Civilization’s Collapse

[thoughts from   ~burning woman~   ]

It seems so long ago now, but before I retired, it was part of my job to go to a troublesome account and make the call whether a piece of equipment should be written off and replaced with a new one. I suppose it’s a responsibility that as the then most senior person in the department I was expected to take on. Further, they knew well enough that I had been old-school European trained; that I didn’t have the throw-away mentality so prevalent in Canada and America. When I said a piece of equipment was a write-off, there was no point sending more techs to try to make it work. It was replaced.

The point of this long preamble is that I developed a kind of second-sight about what can be salvaged and what should be written off. Does this apply to other than machines, buildings or human bodies? Can an individual assess the level of entropy in a much larger and more complex system, for example, an empire or an entire civilization? As a matter of fact, that is a deduction that isn’t difficult to arrive at. Let me explain.

While I was thus involved in the technological world of a global multi-national corporation I was also very much involved in social and environmental issues. To me the two went hand in hand. The corporation taught me to see what was wrong with the technological world we were developing and it also taught me that past a certain point in the life of any system, be it a dispenser or a civilization, entropy reached a level that made it pointless to continue fixing.

Now to bring up an unpopular subject: the downfall of man’s civilization and the fact that we are now totally engaged into and sliding down its dark side. Should it come as a surprise that such events do not happen only to others far behind us in history? We are facing, not a change but an implosion of gargantuan magnitude and while a few millions seem concerned it remains that the billions are not.

I know this. It’s not something I wanted to happen, I worked hard enough to prevent it, but it is precisely because of the recent work I put into preventing this global collapse that I can feel what is coming. I know because of the obdurate stance people in general have taken against change; particularly against changing personal lifestyles. People don’t want less, they want more of what is destroying the physical and social environment. They want it because it is convenient and comfortable, post-WWII “virtues” that have become a matter of faith, faith in success, in winning, in having, keeping and adding to. That is the formula for corruption and consequently entropy.

We’re certainly not short of voices raised in protest, anger and sometimes even in hope yet none of them have any traction in the current social morass because none are willing to, or even know how to, address the real problem: Earthian nature. It is that nature that will determine whether this civilization continues or implodes.

Well… obviously it is that very nature that has brought civilization to this sad place and just as obviously that same nature is hardened against changing itself so, what could a thinking person conclude? The driving force of any civilization of intelligent, sentient and self aware beings is the nature of such beings, not the systems they invented to serve them. Would-be change agents look at the systems, proposing change to the systems, but Earthians have become Cyborgs, their way of life, their very bodies entirely dependent on the systems they created for their profit, comfort and convenience. If the systems were terminated prior to new ones properly developed, tested and put on stream most of mankind would perish. That is a foregone conclusion.

So, not only will mankind not change its mind; its ways, but it no longer can. It is physically and mentally welded into its collapsing social construct. Therefore my conclusion is simple: man’s civilization is a write off. You could write these words upon any major public place anywhere on the planet, date them, and time will prove them unassailable. It’s not a condemnation, it’s a simple but accurate assessment of a too-obvious condition.

Here is that famous sonnet “Ozymandias” by Percy Shelley, written in January 1818, over 200 years ago.  It has a new meaning today:
“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

I Had to Write This…

I had to write this…
[thoughts from   ~burning woman~  ]

Just finished watching, for the umpteenth time, the movie, “The Statement” (2003) with Tilda Swinton and Michael Caine.  Basically another story of hunting down Nazi murderers of innocent and helpless Jews in WWII, this time in France under the fascist, heavily pro-Nazi Vichy regime led my Marshal Petain. 

The point here is that these mass murders happened 80 or less years ago – one Earthian life time and here we are, poised to do it all over again.  Isn’t that just fantastic how quickly we forget our ignorance, stupidity and murderous mob tendencies just to start again? 

Granted, we haven’t yet quite decided which race or class of people are going to suffer our wrath, but we’re ready to “do it”.  Most likely the educated and well-informed voting mob will pick on people of some sort of colour to slaughter. Refugees, they’re pretty safe, not too dangerous.  The Muslims, well, that’s a different matter, they tend to fight back. We’ll definitely need the police, the Security state, maybe the army on our side for this. It’s but a matter of putting the right people in government to pass the laws to legitimize the slaughter and that’s never been a problem.  The problem is motivating those still sitting on the fence.  They may have to be our target this time.  Great, those stupid liberals won’t expect to be a mob’s target: sitting ducks.  

You see? That’s how it goes.  The circles just get bigger, nothing essential changes.  And why is that? Why doesn’t anything change and why do we put on the rose coloured glasses and insist that somehow, yes, things have gotten better? Was the 20th Century with its two devastating world wars followed by endless wars and the cruelest form of exploitation of resource rich emerging countries really better than the Hundred Years War?  Is that a rhetorical question or what?

What is our problem?  I’ll tell you, and I’ll keep telling you, as long as I have breath: our problem is that as a species, as a collective, as a “civilization” we don’t give a damn. We are not the least empathetic, though we can be so easily conned by our various propaganda machines into believing that we are, indeed, kind and loving “at heart” and that it is only the few; the minority; that is psychopathic and loves war and killing.  It isn’t. It’s a very, very big majority that is in love with violence and that never gets enough of it. If you don’t believe me, check out the internet and video games. Check out how much money derives directly from violence or the promotion of violence.  

Not all violence means bloodshed and death, though we certainly enjoy doing that best. Violence is everything that causes some sort of harm to others; to another – human, animal, plant or planet, for one’s selfish benefit or one’s enjoyment.  We need to get that very clear in our head for it is the same as what religion calls sin: the inflicting of pain and loss upon any “other” for one’s own satisfaction, benefit or pleasure. 

There is but one antidote for this Earthian condition that is destroying this world and possibly much of the biological life on and in it, and that is for all *ISSA beings to choose to become compassionate.  How many times have I said that? Doesn’t matter because it’s like the wind in the leafless cottonwood trees here in winter: sound and either you like it or you don’t like it, but the wind doesn’t change its tune whether you’re comfortable with it or not.

I’ve been following the current protests highlighting climate change and elitist rip-offs called the economy and assessing the chances of such protests actually accomplishing anything at all. My conclusion is predictable: the protesters are going nowhere.

Oh, what a terrible thing to say! Of course they’re going somewhere; they’re making some politicos change their minds… wow! Problem with that is, these mind-changing chameleons are opportunists. They can see the tide flowing in and they are just smart enough to move the blanket, the umbrella and the cooler a bit higher up on the beach. Still same beach, same picnic, same people. They’ll be safe from the rising waters and who cares about those who are already up against the cliff? Their problem.

If there is one thing activism has taught me back then, it’s that to address one “big” problem it is absolutely necessary to address all “big” problems. You cannot address climate change without addressing global poverty. You cannot address poverty without addressing over-population. You cannot promote alternative sources of energy if you are not condemning consumerism outright. You cannot blame right-winged politicians for screwing the planet if you are blinding yourself to the fact that your “left winged” politicians (the ones you would happily put back in charge) are as corrupt and often more so.  You cannot address justice if you are not, first, dedicated to destroying your billionaire elites – and I mean destroy utterly.  You cannot address and hope to make a dent in any of the above if you are not primarily committed to stopping all wars, genocides and where police operate out of control as in the US, stopping all government sanctioned mass murder.  You cannot in all honesty address and oppose any of the above if inside yourself resides one ounce of racism, misogyny, bullying and oh yes, patriotism. How many realize that patriotism is fanaticism that leads to terrorism?  It’s always been that.

Finally (this has to stop somewhere) nothing at all will ever change as long as there remains one Earthian anywhere convinced that s/he is entitled; if particularly blessed in some way or is superior to anyone else.  In other words, until Earthian pride is completely subdued by humility… we are doomed. We were taught; we were given chance after chance; we know right from wrong and as long as we choose wrong we can’t expect that anything will ever come out right. 

“We knew that the Earth was flat, we knew that we were the center of the universe, and we knew that a man-made heavier than air piece of machinery could not take flight. Through all stages of human history, intellectual authorities have pronounced their supremacy by ridiculing or suppressing elements of reality that simply didn’t fit within the framework of accepted knowledge. Are we really any different today? Have we really changed our acceptance towards things that won’t fit the frame? Maybe there are concepts of our reality we have yet to understand, and if we open our eyes, maybe we will see that something significant has been overlooked.”Terje Toftenes (take from the film “The Day Before Disclosure”)

*ISSA: intelligent, sentient, self aware

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

 

On Communication and Patriotism

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

I’ve been “blogging” for a few years now, sometimes intensely, sometimes lackadaisically, but always as I see in retrospect, with intent to both, learn from others and express ideas they seem unaware of.  Some would call that teaching, but I am no teacher nor do I aspire to such a task. I’ve also been called a “contrarian” and in all honesty, that label, given to me by Frank Parker (https://franklparker.com/ – have a peek, there’s some cool stuff there!) does carry validity.  I’m not rejecting it even if often what is thought of as merely contradictory is juxtapositions of ideas to create “food for thought” for those too comfortable in their traditional niche of clubbish patting on back.

Blogging is all about communication. For the most part people share blogs between comfort zones having discovered that attempting to communicate across storm-tossed seas of divergent ideas is difficult and, without a great deal of skill in diplomacy, basically impossible.  When I engaged in social media like Facebook I encountered too many “Donald Trump” type Tweetering.  Ignorant comments by ignorant people. I gave that medium up on short order.

WordPress has a different quality of correspondents. Here you can express your own thoughts and even if they stand at odds with those of another blogger there is space to express, allowance for different opinions, at least most of the time. I, who carry a heavy baggage of non-conformist ideas, certainly do appreciate this rubber-matted sparring room.

That said, I had an unfortunate dialogue with a blogger recently that got me labeled as an “attacker” of another person.  Language problem? Perhaps, but I saw it differently. The issue was political and as with religion, most people exist on the cusp here, holding it together with barely restrained emotions.  I try to approach it from a wider pathway but current political events are carried emotionally and very personally. Political people seem to take any and all non-agreeing discussions as personal attacks even when obviously stated as facts used to clarify an issue, i.e., obviously totally non-personal.  The fact is, I’m not at all interested in personal aspects of individuals, at least not until they stand in my face and claim to be my leader or my master. Then I get very interested, very fast.

OK, let’s get down and dirty.  Most political discussions in this neck of the woods will be about America, Donald Trump, Russia, Vladimir Putin, with peripherals of Syria, Iran, North Korea, Israel and the sleeping dragon, China and Xi Jinping. Americans have their own personal understanding and misunderstanding of these things, based on which “fake news” media or social media they get their information from.  Few social medianites actually put their own boots on the ground to garner up-close personal information about the events they spout on about. In fact most of their “reporters” don’t either so in many cases the buffoon is right about his claims of fake news.

One thing for sure, with fresh air exceptions, is that “America” is declared a good place being vilified by crooked, dirty dealing bad hombres, particularly the current Satanic arch-enemy bogey man Putin.  Putin’s crimes have reached to the very gates of heaven.  But what has he done?  Oh, he has dared intervene with force to stop American-backed regime change in Syria and has put enough fear in the hearts of Zionists and Sunni Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia to prevent the planned invasion of Iran as proxies for the USA war machine and oil lobby.

That however isn’t Putin’s worst crime. His worst crime is that he is accused of interfering in US elections.  True or false? What difference can that make when the USA interferes in elections of sovereign countries all over the planet as a matter of course and when the die still won’t go their way, they concoct a reason for an invasion, or a regime change civil war.  History, folks, repeating and repeating history.

But Americans, like all good patriots, need to deflect the sins of their nation, military, international banking and corporate crimes and impute them on others. They need enemies, preferably of course poorly armed and less technologically advanced so as to suffer the least amount of casualties while inflicting the maximum amount.  Anyone remember the invasion of Grenada under Clown Reagan? Anyone know how big a country Grenada is? Anyone know what Grenada’s military strength consisted of?  Imagine a pack of wolves, say about twenty adults in the pack, planning an attack upon a field mouse’s nest. Surprise, the wolf pack won that “war” and the win filled its newspapers with glowing headlines.  Such heroism, it did them proud, that.

They also need a scapegoat for that imputation to work. Vladimir Putin, the front man responsible to “make Russia great again” in actual fact while the buffoon who claimed same for Amerikkka caused it to go in the opposite direction, just happens to be the right kind of guy to demonize. The propaganda has been rolling off the press full bore now for a couple of years at least and by now I’m sure if we looked closely, Putin has red skin, horns growing out of his forehead and a tail with a spearhead on the end. No? Put on your American Patriot Glasses or “APG’s issued by Homeland Security, then you’ll see it too. Don’t be of those left out of Amerikkka’s Vision.

What’s either sad, funny or amazing, is that most Americans are quite unaware they are participating in this war-mongering scenario, just as the German people were quite unaware at first that supporting Hitler would mean millions of them would die, after they slaughtered tens of millions of others, and all for naught.  Well, not exactly, their elites, just as US-based elites are currently doing, would make zillions from the various killing fronts, hiding and laundering those massive profits which they would then use to create ‘the new world order’ under the American Hegemon.  The German people didn’t know this, and neither do their current imitators, the American people. Why not? Because they prefer propaganda over history, that’s why not.

So I was attempting to explain this to a blogger who, I suspected, was aware of these things. But this person chose to ignore the big picture and focus on lambasting the White House buffoon and his family (deservedly so) and say nary a word about the 50% of total government income handed to the military to do with as it sees fit; to ignore the massive war crimes being committed with US weaponry and tactical aid against Yemen, Palestine, Syria, Lybia (yes, that’s still going on!), Iraq (yes, that too is still going on), in northern Africa (you name it, special forces will be in there destabilizing, creating chaos, blazing a path for multinational exploitation of remaining natural resources and enslavement of the work force), and of course Afghanistan (how old is that endless war again? Is it a war on terror, or on protecting the poppy fields? Hah!) I’m sure US military thought is looking at Pakistan also, and perhaps India… but these have nukes… Oh-oh… owie!

One could laugh at such military ineptness from the world’s most powerful military nation with the world’s greatest export of military arsenal, and the equal ineptness of its sidekicks in war crimes: Britain, France, Canada, and probably dribs and drabs of other benighted and equally stupid European Union members of the NATO coalition.  War is always good business, win or lose, for those who ‘fund’ them and provide the guns and who really rules Western “democracies” huh?

This is where it’s at. So I call that blogger a hypocrite for deliberately ignoring the facts of the matter and choosing instead to demonize Vladimir Putin and turn it all around, making it look as if it’s Putin who is fighting all those wars and the honourable peace-maker in all of this is the USA.  But before I made the call, this person had admitted to knowing these facts as well or better than I do.  I then felt justified in calling a spade a spade.  If you are stuffing your face with apple pie and I say that you are eating apple pie, I’m not attacking you, am I?

But I did not reckon with that mind-blinding sickness called patriotism.  ‘My country, may she be always right, but my country right or wrong.’  Indeed, that is the last cry of the patriot.  Truth, facts, reality, these must play second fiddle to my country’s right to be always “right” and all others who disagree, to be always wrong.  And woe to them if I decide they are wrong: I have the might to punish such temerity and the propaganda machine to make it all seem so legitimate.

Communication, then, must bow to the superior patriotic mind.

The pen is not mightier than the sword at all.  All the pen is allowed to do is promote and extol the sword or stick to making shopping lists.

 

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.