Tag Archives: environment

Man’s Last War

 – a poem by Sha’Tara

The world hasn’t changed much
Since so long ago I was born, when I happened
For no reason it would seem, without hubris.
I learned to talk, walk, listen and observe
With the sense it all had to mean something
In the end.

The world was cruel to me when I was young
Though I didn’t know that then, it’s what is
To a child life is the norm, the form.
There was much hardship, harshness
Little tenderness, and it seemed dangerous.
One could get used to tenderness
And the world I knew hated it with passion

Life is cruel they said without apology,
Why not, they’d just survived a world war
Knowing naught but blood and losses.
I thought, yes, I have to be bold, and tough,
I too must survive, there’ll be another war
And I must know how to fight it; must know
My enemy before he knows that I know
I will beat him.

No, the world hasn’t changed, not at all.
The same people lie, cheat, rob and rule,
The same people suffer and die, their blood
Lubricates the scythe blindly sweeping
To leave fodder and dying stubble in its wake
To be ploughed.

Yet something did change, has changed:
A new World War is being fought
No longer man against man but once again
Man against nature-she fighting her protracted way
She can never lose. Man in his hubris
Still believes he can win this war and it will be
As he never, ever, won any of his other wars.
Earth withdraws her bounty.

Man’s motto remains against, never with
Rashly, brashly he spreads his nets,
His barb wire, his jet trails, his towers,
His stacks, his chimneys, his warehouses
His poisons, his noise, his armaments and bombs,
All to be measured in corporate profits for
The rich to get richer.

Civilization teeters on the brink of extinction,
The skies are deeply troubled, changing colours,
Glaciers melt, calve, fires burn, smoke rises:
Death, death, death! Booms and cackles
The Lord of Greed, the God of man, terminator
Soulless and heartless

The last man stands on his funeral pyre
Proudly made of planet Earth’s skin
Sure he’d won his very last war against life.
He raises his fist to the soured heavens,
Claiming his last divine imperative thinking
I have destroyed the environment, I have killed
All that sustained life. I leave my boot print
On a weak, worthless and dying world, hah!
“I Am become Death, the Destroyer of Earth,
I will be remembered, halleluiah!”

Embarrassment of Riches-George Monbiot

When it comes to being a voice for our stressed and possibly dying natural environment, George Monbiot’s has no equal.

Please read on. (Hopefully all the links are working as this is a copy, not a reblog. They do work at this end, I checked.)


Embarrassment of Riches – monbiot.com

Embarrassment of Riches

Posted: 20 Sep 2019 01:22 AM PDT

For the sake of life on Earth, we should set an upper limit on the money any person can amass. (My emphasis)

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian, 19th September 2019

It is not quite true that behind every great fortune lies a great crime. Musicians and novelists, for example, can become extremely rich by giving other people pleasure. But it does appear to be universally true that in front of every great fortune lies a great crime. Immense wealth translates automatically into immense environmental impacts, regardless of the intentions of those who possess it. The very wealthy, almost as a matter of definition, are committing ecocide.

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from a worker at a British private airport. “I see things that really shouldn’t be happening in 2019,” he wrote. Every day he sees Global 7000 jets, Gulfstream 650s and even Boeing 737s take off from the airport carrying a single passenger, mostly flying to Russia and the US. The private Boeing 737s, built to take 174 seats, are filled at the airport with around 32,000 litres of fuel. That’s as much fossil energy as a small African town might use in a year.

Where are these single passengers going? Perhaps to visit one of their superhomes, constructed and run at vast environmental cost, or to take a trip on their superyacht, which might burn 500 litres of diesel per hour just ticking over, and is built and furnished with rare materials, extracted at the expense of stunning places.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that when Google convened a meeting of the rich and famous at the Verdura resort in Sicily this July to discuss climate breakdown, its delegates arrived in 114 private jets and a fleet of megayachts, and drove around the island in supercars. Even when they mean well, the ultrarich cannot help trashing the living world.

A series of research papers shows that income is by far the most important determinant of environmental impact. It doesn’t matter how green you think you are. If you have surplus money, you spend it. The only form of consumption that’s clearly and positively correlated with good environmental intentions is diet: people who see themselves as green tend to eat less meat and more organic vegetables. But attitudes have little bearing on the amount of transport fuel, home energy and other materials you consume. Money conquers all.

The disastrous effects of spending power are compounded by the psychological impacts of being wealthy. Plenty of studies show that the richer you are, the less you are able to connect with other people. Wealth suppresses empathy. One paper reveals that drivers in expensive cars are less likely to stop for people using pedestrian crossings than drivers in cheap cars. Another revealed that rich people were less able than poorer people to feel compassion towards children with cancer. Though they are disproportionately responsible for our environmental crises, the rich will be hurt least and last by planetary disaster, while the poor are hurt first and worst. The richer people are, the research suggests, the less such knowledge is likely to trouble them.

Another issue is that wealth limits the perspectives of even the best-intentioned people. This week Bill Gates argued in an interview with the Financial Times that divesting (ditching stocks) from fossil fuels is a waste of time. It would be better, he claimed, to pour money into disruptive new technologies with lower emissions. Of course we need new technologies. But he has missed the crucial point: in seeking to prevent climate breakdown, what counts is not what you do but what you stop doing. It doesn’t matter how many solar panels you install if you don’t simultaneously shut down coal and gas burners. Unless existing fossil fuel plants are retired before the end of their lives, and all exploration and development of new fossil fuels reserves is cancelled, there is little chance of preventing more than 1.5°C of global heating.

But this requires structural change, which involves political intervention as well as technological innovation: anathema to Silicon Valley billionaires. It demands an acknowledgement that money is not a magic wand that makes all the bad stuff go away.

On Friday, I’ll be joining the global climate strike, in which adults will stand with the young people whose call to action has resonated around the world. As a freelancer, I’ve been wondering who I’m striking against. Myself? Yes: one aspect of myself, at least. Perhaps the most radical thing we can now do is to limit our material aspirations. The assumption on which governments and economists operate is that everyone strives to maximise their wealth. If we succeed in this task, we inevitably demolish our life support systems. Were the poor to live like the rich, and the rich to live like the oligarchs, we would destroy everything. The continued pursuit of wealth, in a world that has enough already (albeit very poorly distributed) is a formula for mass destitution.

A meaningful strike in defence of the living world is, in part, a strike against the desire to raise our incomes and accumulate wealth: a desire shaped, more than we are probably aware, by dominant social and economic narratives. I see myself as striking in support of a radical and disturbing concept: Enough. Individually and collectively, it is time to decide what enough looks like, and how to know when we’ve achieved it.

There’s a name for this approach, coined by the Belgian philosopher Ingrid Robeyns: limitarianism. Robeyns argues that there should be an upper limit to the amount of income and wealth a person can amass. Just as we recognise a poverty line, below which no one should fall, we should recognise a riches line, above which no one should rise. This call for a levelling down is perhaps the most blasphemous idea in contemporary discourse.

But her arguments are sound. Surplus money allows some people to exercise inordinate power over others, in the workplace, in politics, and above all in the capture, use and destruction of natural wealth. If everyone is to flourish, we cannot afford the rich. Nor can we afford our own aspirations, that the culture of wealth maximisation encourages.

The grim truth is that the rich are able to live as they do only because others are poor: there is neither the physical nor ecological space for everyone to pursue private luxury. Instead we should strive for private sufficiency, public luxury. Life on earth depends on moderation.



Exceptionalism is not just an American sickness, it’s a collective madness rising as a world destroying tsunami. More and more groups vying with others to make their voices and concerns heard and the louder they get, the more chaos ensues. Hyperbole? Observation says no. It is a fact of “tidal waves” of people sensing the serious unease of the times and honestly having no idea on how to deal with it except by regurgitating old concepts, the favorite remaining war and it doesn’t matter much against whom, or what just as long as there is fighting going on.

Earth has a major problem and it’s called mankind, the pseudo-intellectual species that chose, as a collective, to re-make Earth and its environment into its own image. It’s that simple and that devastating because the only way it could have worked is in the exact opposite direction: man should have known, when a much younger species, to adapt itself to its world. Its intellectual hubris drove it to chose exploitation and oppression over cooperation. The big “Wrong Way: Do Not Enter” sign was torn down and used to make crosses and scaffolds for those who insisted on teaching a better way.

Man chose wrong. A long time ago. The choice, once made, could never be countered because the creature’s body over time kept adapting to non-natural ways of engaging nature, i.e., life. The choice was irrevocable and would begin a string of horrible consequences a few are just beginning to recognize and admit to. The final consequence: the destruction of the planet insofar as the life-sustaining aspects of it goes.

As an environmentalist, as an activist, as an elder, as an observer and as a self empowered individual without any agenda, not even of personal survival because I don’t need that kind of pretend comfort, I’m going to state this as clearly as I can.

I know there is no survival, that all are born to die and that the only thing that matters, if anything does, is what one does in between that beginning and that end. To that I can add with certainty that “man” will continue to run from the stick and after the carrot: there is no longer any choice; there never was any choice once the wrong turn was chosen. Those who thought they could return to nature and choose a different path have been all but eliminated as genocidal fuel for civilization.

As a species man is done for. There is no possibility of turning back the tide of exploitation and oppression because that is the very thing that fuels his civilization. That is what must be understood and admitted to: that oppression, in particular, is the fuel that feeds civilization. Therefore, as should have been obvious since inception, this civilization (as were all preceding civilizations) is an unsustainable concept.

Therefore it should be obvious that any proposed solution based on tried and failed concepts are the re-running of old black and white movies: when you walk out of the theater, nothing has changed: your world did not change into a black and white Pleasantville.

As an intelligent and quite able to reason species, man should have never gotten upon this road but the temptation was just too great to resist. Man adapted itself to pillaging, raping, destroying and killing, all the while thinking it was building ever-after empires.

Man built his cities, his monuments to pride, exploitation, control and the resultant smog (literally, morally and spiritually) spreads over the planet like the fumes that poured out of Mount Doom… but there are no mighty men, no dwarves, no elves, no Hobbits, no wizards and no Ents to extinguish this volcano.


(Vancouver, May 12, 2019 – from 2000 feet – photo by Sha’Tara)

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” Albert Einstein

The Age of the Dictators

[thoughts from ~burning woman~ ]

Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of an intervention that not only saved my physical life but sent me off on a 180 degree tangent from what I had been. That can only have meaning to myself, of course, or perhaps to anyone who may have been touched by some of the thoughts and ideas on expressing life which I have spouted quite regularly and annoyingly. After all, who wants change that turns all the known and relative comfortable on its head? Better to stick with the tried and failed, follow tradition. Tomorrow is “Good Friday” as declared by the Roman Church many years ago and subsequently adhered to by all of Christendom. That the concept was stolen from the very “pagans” the Church despised and massacred is of little consequence: we have a TRADITION!

That out of my way, I want to write a bit about some recent observations of the global political processes. Lots of noise and bloody foolishness bandied about as the overcrowded numbties of Earth increasingly go for the jugular over their beliefs and traditions. Not so different than previous slices of historical drama except that now we can “participate” in the processes globally through satellite feeds and the quasi-ubiquitous Internet.

I have noticed a serious difference however, and I call it ‘The Age of the Dictators.’

Man’s civilization is of course familiar with, and his history replete with, dictators but what makes this age different is the global and successful wave of political power grabbing by psychopathic and sociopathic billionaires or military leaders able to circumvent democratic constitutions written to prevent this sort of thing from “ever happening again.” Fledgling democracies established through compromise with totalitarian powers of business, banking and the social security state in the last couple hundred years are being systematically dis-empowered and disarmed by the returning totalitarians.

Temporarily sidetracked, the forces of dictatorship slowly but systematically burrowed into the democratic forms of government, buying stooges, corrupting ideals, installing preferred leaders, developing armies of constitutional lawyers to challenge existing laws that protected the people, particularly the most vulnerable: women, children, the working poor, racial minorities and changing rules that allowed all and sundry to vote, thus in a small way making their voices heard. The stooges of totalitarian power are now overtly active in eliminating free speech and destroying all vestiges of a so-called free press. More: in the USA in particular, 50% of the nation’s income is now barrelling like a train without brakes into the military and much of the rest finds its way into the pockets of its billionaires while a flaming racist and sexual predator rules the country from the White House.

War criminals, torturers, sexual predators, perverts, corrupt billionaires, these it would appear, form the preferred choice of voters in most democracies yet we know that it is ownership of the propaganda apparatus and manipulation of polls that have made this possible. Well, some of us know this but of course those who are trained to react to a ‘score’ as if an election was nothing more than a playoff take it at face value that their team won or lost the game and they’ll have to wait another four years to attend another playoff in which their team with better management, stronger or sexier players and richer sponsors, will have a chance to win.

That’s what democracy and the “popular vote” has become: sports teams, playoffs and a final score.

The conclusion was foregone when this began happening decades ago. No one can change the course of events now all hope and talk to the contrary. Unknown to the spectators of the democratic playoff game was a much more powerful team some have labelled “the New World Order” to be politically correct, to be sprung upon the bewildered spectators. It was funded and manned to crush all opposition and usher in the Age of the Totalitarian Dictators. It’s team consisted of the most mentally weak and morally corrupt psychopaths and the owners made the rules for the final playoff.

The people never clued in that “participatory democracy” did not begin and end at the polling booth but had to be a 24/7 commitment to an ideal. Too bad and so sad: goodbye democracies. Now we lose everything. Now we go to war against one-another and against our natural environment. Now we bleed, suffer and die. Now we pay the price for our apathy and woeful ignorance of the kind of forces that have always manipulated us to kill and die for their enrichment and entertainment.

Let’s follow the leaders and go out on the streets to cheer the final winners, our Dictators.

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.”

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


After listening to Lakme, the Flower Duet

[thoughts from ~burning woman~ ]

I like beautiful music and although I prefer music over song, either can be from any era, just as long as it is beautiful to my ears and it moves me. So I was listening to Lakme, part I, The Flower Duet (in this case performed by Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca – See YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vf42IP__ipw)

…And I was thinking, again, about Earth and about “Man” as Earth’s current lord and master. I was thinking of a line by Carl Sagan in “Contact”: ‘You are capable of such beauty, and such horror.” (Quoting from memory but the gist is here)

Whenever I engage myself, mind-wise, on Earthian matters, I get confused as to how I should approach it. Is it “you” and me as the cosmic observer, or should I include myself in among the observed? How do I decide this? First, I must be sure it isn’t a matter of hubris; that if my observation runs into negative judgment, that if I remove myself it isn’t in any way because I think I’m superior to the rest of Earthianity, but because I no longer think, speak or act as most of “you” do. This process, this judgment, must be impeccable on my part.

I believe it is, therefore I am going to be the observer and use the “you” though certainly in the generic sense. I do not know “you” as individuals, therefore it will be according to your conscience whether you “fit in” or can truthfully remain outside the picture. For you, today, I will once again take up the role of the Trojan prophetess Cassandra and say things you will not find acceptable.

You are capable of great beauty… certainly, and the piece of music I mention above proves it even by itself. You don’t have to be able to write, play or sing such, you just have to be able to listen to it and have the capacity to let it enter you and fill you and for the three or four minutes it takes, let it displace all other thoughts, feelings and emotions. Simple, really.

The problem however is that too often it seems impossible to let go. The “immediate” presses upon the mind and demands full attention. That immediate could be anything from the most pleasurable to the greatest pain or loss. The mind-heart refuses to let go of its current obsession driven by anticipation or the immediacy of physical or mental pain.

Earth is not a place conducive to an overall sense of peace, comfort and wholesome satisfaction. Even in the most remote corners, surrounded by nothing but nature, unless one is blind, the reality of the turmoil taking place in the skies, the seas, the trees, the soil, impinges on one’s awareness: predators, everywhere. You see, your world’s natural motive force is based on predatorship or perhaps I should coin a word here: predatorism, because in fact that is the concept that rules Earth. Some are born to kill, many, many more are born to be killed, eaten or absorbed into the natural fabric, their lives cut down long before they can complete their natural cycle. Even your great mountains are worn away by waters and passing winds.

I realize that most of you do not engage your world this way. You do not sense this, though you may be vaguely aware of it, and you generally shrug it off, or use it as an excuse for indulging in what Sagan called, “great horror.” You call it the food chain, and that’s that, as if somehow that explains it away. As if that same nature you want to wax poetic about can also be the brutal barbaric entity that supports your convenient food chain. As if there is no unacceptable dichotomy here, no problem.

That’s the problem, you see, the fact that you don’t see a problem with how nature works. You don’t see a problem because you don’t realize the direct relationship with your own social failures: your wars, genocides, social injustices of every possible kind juxtaposed with those of the world you happen to be temporarily using as a base because… you have no choice: you can’t get away, and if you could, you would have no clue where to go. Some of you feel that your species is a failure, but how many see your world’s “procession” as an equally and connected abysmal failure?

I feel both, the horror that is the working natural system of this world, and the greater horror that is an intelligent, sentient, self aware (ISSA) species calling itself “mankind” that refuses to question the modus operandi of its natural world; refuses to question its own modus operandi; refuses the simple expedient of connecting the dots in order to realize why things are as they are and why no lasting (real) solution to man’s social problems has ever come forth. The only times some significant change has ever happened was through the exercise of violence. That true statement should make any rational being stop and take note: why must it require violence to make significant change within the social structure, and why is it that any and all such changes have failed and are in the process of failing right now?

To me that would be the “why?” question of all the “why?” questions. Why do you always fail? Look, even now, while shooting off on all kinds of tangents based on IT and AI, you are helplessly realizing that this technology is quite likely going to supplant you, perhaps destroy you as ISSA beings. Barely has the technology begun that already you know without a doubt that some way or another it is going to bite you in the ass, and that severely so.

You see? There is no win-win here, not under the current hegemony; the current “force” or “power” that operates this planet. You, people of earth, are not that force or that power, but its slave species. There, I’ve said it, and but for rare exceptions, that is not something you will find acceptable, therefore you will find it necessary to reject the thought outright. If you did not, guess what? You would be forced to look into this in depth and who knows where that would lead? To confront your real nemesis?

No. I can easily tell you where it would lead: back to organized religion. Without self empowerment; without the power to cancel out all input and replace it all with your own thoughts, your own self-made ISSA reasoning, the forces or powers I speak of, will seem to smile in your brain. They will prod you along, with fine words or goads, down the chute into a ready-made religion that will, of course, explain it all. You will then accept the “new” ideas this “new” religion programs into your mind and who knows? It could explain how the AI is a divine power, or it could just as easily make you believe that the time has come to launch a “revolution” against science and technology and you will go off to destroy all vestiges of science and technology, mindlessly following the dictates of a few madmen who will tell you they are “making the Earth great again.”

Either way, you see, you’re not your own person: you are an actor, a puppet, a robot because you are not in control of your own mind. So you will go along (or you will be of those who will violently oppose the barbarians) and indulge in much, much more horror and under your feet, in the seas, in the trees and in the air, predators will continue to kill and eat, and billions of lifeforms will die premature deaths in attempts to sate the hunger of an insatiable system – as Costello would say, “Same as you!”

Quote: “Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty- five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.” (Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt)