Category Archives: Materialistism

Fossil Fuel Subsidies

How do you reblog comments? I don’t know, but I know how to use copy and paste, so here’s some interesting pasting.  You’ll see a link to Counter Punch at the end of the comment so you can follow up if interested.  With our local price of gas at $1.57.9 dollars a liter, the following begins to make sense.  Why be satisfied with tax payer guaranteed subsidies when you can gouge the same public at the gas pump as well?  Who ever heard of rats saying, “OK, that’s enough!” They will squeeze the lemon until the very pips squeak.

❝ The United States has spent more subsidizing fossil fuels in recent years than it has on defense spending, according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund. The IMF found that direct and indirect subsidies for coal, oil and gas in the U.S. reached $649 billion in 2015. Pentagon spending that same year … Continue reading Fossil fuel subsidies even greater than military industrial complex — Eideard

“The military is the linchpin, playing a pivotal role intensifying the climate crisis.

Consider the basic facts. The US military is:

+ The single largest institutional consumer of fossil fuel in the world;

+ The most powerful global force securing oil and protecting oil infrastructure;

+ The leading director — along with the big bankers and fossil fuel giants — of the elites’ plans for dealing with the coming crisis. The military and big corporations are not in climate denial — they are in control — and plan to keep it that way as the climate deteriorates.

+ The war machine’s enormous consumption and strategic capture of fossil fuels and their behind-the-scenes management of the crisis hints at its true role: sponsor of big oil and co-creator of the climate crisis.

The dominance of fossil fuels and the supremacy of the US empire rely not on victory in war or on market savvy or “value added” to the economy but on their political power. That power makes destructive and wasteful industries extremely profitable. The Oil Empire relies on massive public funding, carefully crafted exemptions to law and immunity from the economic, social and environmental damages they inflict.

The military can only maintain the fiction that it protects our security by concealing its role as destroyer of the very things we really need to survive: a healthy environment and a democratic society. ”

https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/05/17/the-interlocking-crises-war-and-climate-chaos/

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.”

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

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

Tomgram: Nomi Prins, A World That Is the Property of the 1%

[My introduction to this article: a major question of mine for long decades: what makes ordinary people admire, support and quasi-worship the rich and “financially successful” when it is common knowledge (or should be by now!) that these are vultures and vampires who feed off the blood, sweat and tears of the poor, marginalized, oppressed, disenfranchised, servants and slaves of the world?
Be honest, who would consider the woman who delivers the mail as a proper candidate for president? Can’t claim it’s because she has no experience, Trump didn’t have any.  Would you vote for your plumber if he decided to run? Baker? How about your babysitter? Kindergarten teacher?  The neighbour’s son who is a long-haul truck driver?
What are these people missing, apart from any opportunity? Well, they aren’t personally known, popular or notorious, but mostly, they are poor. We vote for the eagle, never for the rabbit.  That it means the eagle will feel entitled to kill more rabbits doesn’t seem to sink in, and neither the fact that we are the rabbits.    
  ~Sha’Tara~ ] 

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: I hate to even bring it up, but we’ve come to that moment again. You know, the one at year’s end when I ask all of you for money to keep this website afloat. This isn’t exactly how I like to spend my time either, but your contributions really do keep us going. So I’ve written a funding appeal to all TomDispatch subscribers that begins this way: “What a year!  I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted by You Know Who and the ‘Fake News Media’ coverage of him.  I know, I know… in the president’s inimitable style I should have at least six exclamation points after that last sentence.  Still, I don’t think it would be an unfair description to say that I’m one of the un-Trumps.  I don’t insult.  I don’t even tweet…” The appeal includes, of course, the expectable but necessary plea for donations. If you’re not a TD subscriber but visit this site regularly, you can click here to read my whole letter. Or, if the mood strikes you instantly, you can just go right to the TD donation page and contribute. In return for a $100 donation — $125 if you live outside the U.S. — you can also choose to receive a signed, personalized copy of various Dispatch Books or others as a token of our thanks. Believe me, you really do make all the difference. Tom]

This year, I simply couldn’t get one fact out of my head: according to a 2017 report from the Institute for Policy Studies, three billionaires — Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates — have amassed as much wealth as the bottom half of American society. That’s 160 million people! (And unlike our president, I don’t use exclamation points lightly or often.) Or as Oxfam reported in January of this year, the wealth of eight men — and yes, they were men (including the three mentioned above) — was equal to that of half the people on this planet in 2017. Yikes! And just to give you a sense of where we’ve been heading at supersonic speed, an Oxfam report a year earlier had 62 billionaires owning half the planet’s wealth. Imagine that: 62 to eight in a single year.

Then consider what we know about the rise of the billionaire class. Again, according to Oxfam, a new billionaire appeared every two days in 2017, while 82% of the wealth being created on this planet already went to the top 1% and the bottom half of the global population saw no wealth gains at all. In 2017 (the last year for which we have such figures), the total wealth of the globe’s billionaire class ballooned by almost 20%. (And I want you to know that, unlike our president, I’m fighting hard to restrain the urge to put one or more exclamation points after every one of those sentences.)

Oxfam released its figures this January to coincide with the annual meeting of the world’s top dogs at Davos in Switzerland. Assumedly, it will do so again in January 2019 and I shudder to think what the next set of stats are likely to be. In the meantime, consider what TomDispatch regular Nomi Prins, author most recently of Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, has to say about a planet on which the actual economic situation of most people bears remarkably little relationship to what’s generally advertised and why, if you think stability is already a thing of the past in a Trumpian world, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Tom

Wall Street, Banks, and Angry Citizens
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
By Nomi Prins

As we head into 2019, leaving the chaos of this year behind, a major question remains unanswered when it comes to the state of Main Street, not just here but across the planet. If the global economy really is booming, as many politicians claim, why are leaders and their parties around the world continuing to get booted out of office in such a sweeping fashion?

One obvious answer: the post-Great Recession economic “recovery” was largely reserved for the few who could participate in the rising financial markets of those years, not the majority who continued to work longer hours, sometimes at multiple jobs, to stay afloat. In other words, the good times have left out so many people, like those struggling to keep even a few hundred dollars in their bank accounts to cover an emergency or the 80% of American workers who live paycheck to paycheck.

In today’s global economy, financial security is increasingly the property of the 1%. No surprise, then, that, as a sense of economic instability continued to grow over the past decade, angst turned to anger, a transition that — from the U.S. to the Philippines, Hungary to Brazil, Poland to Mexico — has provoked a plethora of voter upheavals. In the process, a 1930s-style brew of rising nationalism and blaming the “other” — whether that other was an immigrant, a religious group, a country, or the rest of the world — emerged.

This phenomenon offered a series of Trumpian figures, including of course The Donald himself, an opening to ride a wave of “populism” to the heights of the political system. That the backgrounds and records of none of them — whether you’re talking about Donald Trump, Viktor Orbán, Rodrigo Duterte, or Jair Bolsonaro (among others) — reflected the daily concerns of the “common people,” as the classic definition of populism might have it, hardly mattered. Even a billionaire could, it turned out, exploit economic insecurity effectively and use it to rise to ultimate power.

Ironically, as that American master at evoking the fears of apprentices everywhere showed, to assume the highest office in the land was only to begin a process of creating yet more fear and insecurity. Trump’s trade wars, for instance, have typically infused the world with increased anxiety and distrust toward the U.S., even as they thwarted the ability of domestic business leaders and ordinary people to plan for the future. Meanwhile, just under the surface of the reputed good times, the damage to that future only intensified. In other words, the groundwork has already been laid for what could be a frightening transformation, both domestically and globally.

That Old Financial Crisis

To understand how we got here, let’s take a step back. Only a decade ago, the world experienced a genuine global financial crisis, a meltdown of the first order. Economic growth ended; shrinking economies threatened to collapse; countless jobs were cut; homes were foreclosed upon and lives wrecked. For regular people, access to credit suddenly disappeared. No wonder fears rose. No wonder for so many a brighter tomorrow ceased to exist.

The details of just why the Great Recession happened have since been glossed over by time and partisan spin. This September, when the 10th anniversary of the collapse of the global financial services firm Lehman Brothers came around, major business news channels considered whether the world might be at risk of another such crisis. However, coverage of such fears, like so many other topics, was quickly tossed aside in favor of paying yet more attention to Donald Trump’s latest tweets, complaints, insults, and lies. Why? Because such a crisis was so 2008 in a year in which, it was claimed, we were enjoying a first class economic high and edging toward the longest bull-market in Wall Street history. When it came to “boom versus gloom,” boom won hands down.

None of that changed one thing, though: most people still feel left behind both in the U.S. and globally. Thanks to the massive accumulation of wealth by a 1% skilled at gaming the system, the roots of a crisis that didn’t end with the end of the Great Recession have spread across the planet, while the dividing line between the “have-nots” and the “have-a-lots” only sharpened and widened.

Though the media hasn’t been paying much attention to the resulting inequality, the statistics (when you see them) on that ever-widening wealth gap are mind-boggling. According to Inequality.org, for instance, those with at least $30 million in wealth globally had the fastest growth rate of any group between 2016 and 2017. The size of that club rose by 25.5% during those years, to 174,800 members. Or if you really want to grasp what’s been happening, consider that, between 2009 and 2017, the number of billionaires whose combined wealth was greater than that of the world’s poorest 50% fell from 380 to just eight. And by the way, despite claims by the president that every other country is screwing America, the U.S. leads the pack when it comes to the growth of inequality. As Inequality.org notes, it has “much greater shares of national wealth and income going to the richest 1% than any other country.”

That, in part, is due to an institution many in the U.S. normally pay little attention to: the U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve. It helped spark that increase in wealth disparity domestically and globally by adopting a post-crisis monetary policy in which electronically fabricated money (via a program called quantitative easing, or QE) was offered to banks and corporations at significantly cheaper rates than to ordinary Americans.

Pumped into financial markets, that money sent stock prices soaring, which naturally ballooned the wealth of the small percentage of the population that actually owned stocks. According to economist Stephen Roach, considering the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances, “It is hardly a stretch to conclude that QE exacerbated America’s already severe income disparities.”

Wall Street, Central Banks, and Everyday People

What has since taken place around the world seems right out of the 1930s. At that time, as the world was emerging from the Great Depression, a sense of broad economic security was slow to return. Instead, fascism and other forms of nationalism only gained steam as people turned on the usual cast of politicians, on other countries, and on each other. (If that sounds faintly Trumpian to you, it should.)

In our post-2008 era, people have witnessed trillions of dollars flowing into bank bailouts and other financial subsidies, not just from governments but from the world’s major central banks. Theoretically, private banks, as a result, would have more money and pay less interest to get it. They would then lend that money to Main Street. Businesses, big and small, would tap into those funds and, in turn, produce real economic growth through expansion, hiring sprees, and wage increases. People would then have more dollars in their pockets and, feeling more financially secure, would spend that money driving the economy to new heights — and all, of course, would then be well.

That fairy tale was pitched around the globe. In fact, cheap money also pushed debt to epic levels, while the share prices of banks rose, as did those of all sorts of other firms, to record-shattering heights.

Even in the U.S., however, where a magnificent recovery was supposed to have been in place for years, actual economic growth simply didn’t materialize at the levels promised. At 2% per year, the average growth of the American gross domestic product over the past decade, for instance, has been half the average of 4% before the 2008 crisis. Similar numbers were repeated throughout the developed world and most emerging markets. In the meantime, total global debt hit $247 trillion in the first quarter of 2018. As the Institute of International Finance found, countries were, on average, borrowing about three dollars for every dollar of goods or services created.

Global Consequences

What the Fed (along with central banks from Europe to Japan) ignited, in fact, was a disproportionate rise in the stock and bond markets with the money they created. That capital sought higher and faster returns than could be achieved in crucial infrastructure or social strengthening projects like building roads, high-speed railways, hospitals, or schools.

What followed was anything but fair. As former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen noted four years ago, “It is no secret that the past few decades of widening inequality can be summed up as significant income and wealth gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority.” And, of course, continuing to pour money into the highest levels of the private banking system was anything but a formula for walking that back.

Instead, as more citizens fell behind, a sense of disenfranchisement and bitterness with existing governments only grew. In the U.S., that meant Donald Trump. In the United Kingdom, similar discontent was reflected in the June 2016 Brexit vote to leave the European Union (EU), which those who felt economically squeezed to death clearly meant as a slap at both the establishment domestically and EU leaders abroad.

Since then, multiple governments in the European Union, too, have shifted toward the populist right. In Germany, recent elections swung both right and left just six years after, in July 2012, European Central Bank (ECB) head Mario Draghi exuded optimism over the ability of such banks to protect the financial system, the Euro, and generally hold things together.

Like the Fed in the U.S., the ECB went on to manufacture money, adding another $3 trillion to its books that would be deployed to buy bonds from favored countries and companies. That artificial stimulus, too, only increased inequality within and between countries in Europe. Meanwhile, Brexit negotiations remain ruinously divisive, threatening to rip Great Britain apart.

Nor was such a story the captive of the North Atlantic. In Brazil, where left-wing president Dilma Rouseff was ousted from power in 2016, her successor Michel Temer oversaw plummeting economic growth and escalating unemployment. That, in turn, led to the election of that country’s own Donald Trump, nationalistic far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro who won a striking 55.2% of the vote against a backdrop of popular discontent. In true Trumpian style, he is disposed against both the very idea of climate change and multilateral trade agreements.

In Mexico, dissatisfied voters similarly rejected the political known, but by swinging left for the first time in 70 years. New president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, popularly known by his initials AMLO, promised to put the needs of ordinary Mexicans first. However, he has the U.S. — and the whims of Donald Trump and his “great wall” — to contend with, which could hamper those efforts.

As AMLO took office on December 1st, the G20 summit of world leaders was unfolding in Argentina. There, amid a glittering backdrop of power and influence, the trade war between the U.S. and the world’s rising superpower, China, came even more clearly into focus. While its president, Xi Jinping, having fully consolidated power amid a wave of Chinese nationalism, could become his country’s longest serving leader, he faces an international landscape that would have amazed and befuddled Mao Zedong.

Though Trump declared his meeting with Xi a success because the two sides agreed on a 90-day tariff truce, his prompt appointment of an anti-Chinese hardliner, Robert Lighthizer, to head negotiations, a tweet in which he referred to himself in superhero fashion as a “Tariff Man,” and news that the U.S. had requested that Canada arrest and extradite an executive of a key Chinese tech company, caused the Dow to take its fourth largest plunge in history and then fluctuate wildly as economic fears of a future “Great Something” rose. More uncertainty and distrust were the true product of that meeting.

In fact, we are now in a world whose key leaders, especially the president of the United States, remain willfully oblivious to its long-term problems, putting policies like deregulation, fake nationalist solutions, and profits for the already grotesquely wealthy ahead of the future lives of the mass of citizens. Consider the yellow-vest protests that have broken out in France, where protestors identifying with left and right political parties are calling for the resignation of neoliberal French President Emmanuel Macron. Many of them, from financially starved provincial towns, are angry that their purchasing power has dropped so low they can barely make ends meet

Ultimately, what transcends geography and geopolitics is an underlying level of economic discontent sparked by twenty-first-century economics and a resulting Grand Canyon-sized global inequality gap that is still widening. Whether the protests go left or right, what continues to lie at the heart of the matter is the way failed policies and stop-gap measures put in place around the world are no longer working, not when it comes to the non-1% anyway. People from Washington to Paris, London to Beijing, increasingly grasp that their economic circumstances are not getting better and are not likely to in any presently imaginable future, given those now in power.

A Dangerous Recipe

The financial crisis of 2008 initially fostered a policy of bailing out banks with cheap money that went not into Main Street economies but into markets enriching the few. As a result, large numbers of people increasingly felt that they were being left behind and so turned against their leaders and sometimes each other as well.

This situation was then exploited by a set of self-appointed politicians of the people, including a billionaire TV personality who capitalized on an increasingly widespread fear of a future at risk. Their promises of economic prosperity were wrapped in populist platitudes, normally (but not always) of a right-wing sort. Lost in this shift away from previously dominant political parties and the systems that went with them was a true form of populism, which would genuinely put the needs of the majority of people over the elite few, build real things including infrastructure, foster organic wealth distribution, and stabilize economies above financial markets.

In the meantime, what we have is, of course, a recipe for an increasingly unstable and vicious world.

Nomi Prins is a TomDispatch regular. Her latest book is Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World (Nation Books). Of her six other books, the most recent is All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power. She is a former Wall Street executive. Special thanks go to researcher Craig Wilson for his superb work on this piece.

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 Nomi Prins

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