Tag Archives: Question

[thoughts from   ~burning woman~   ]

I know now that for a life to have any sort of meaning it has to be experienced from the point of view of having asked one big question. You may well ask, what do you mean by ‘a big question’ and I will reply, I mean such a question which, no matter how you try to find an answer for will remain unanswered. You can watch TV ‘til your cross-eyed, scour the internet, pray, ask whomever, do research, meditate, ponder. You can read philosophy, study all the greatest collected wisdom, watch Ted Talks or even play with algorithms and everything you put in that basket will fall out the bottom.  

That’s it, that’s what real life is: a question bigger than anything a single life can ever answer and no one else has ever asked and given answers to. You see, a big question does not lead you in circles. You’ve all heard the saying, that doing the same thing over and over expecting different results is the definition of insanity. So think: isn’t that what our civilization (so called) has trapped the population of an entire world into doing? It’s our endless search using repetitive small questions that is bringing us and our bullshit accomplishments (again so-called) to their ignoble and much deserved end.

You may not agree and that is certainly your prerogative. You may continue to think about your traditional answers to your endless small questions and they will gladly continue to drive you to power society’s squirrel cage with their trite, repetitively useless non-answers.

If you would put an end to your personal contribution to society’s merry-go-round; if you would figure out a way to exercise your mind outside the pointless running with the herd up the forever collapsing side of the squirrel cage, try to ask one really big question.

The answer is always in the question, of course, or there could be no question, but you have to know how to ask the question if you would extract an answer from it. It takes imagination, courage, daring, commitment, dedication and I daresay compassion to ask one big question knowing that eventually an answer will begin to form to hang over your head like the sword of Damocles.

Each big question’s answer will demand your life. No, not your physical life, that is of little consequence to any big question, but your mind’s life. It will demand that you be ready to change your mind completely and endlessly – without ever reverting to simplistic answers given by little questions. Without ever going back to the squirrel cage even if you discover that you are the only one who jumped out and are standing alone while the herd frantically continues to power the spinning wheel that makes all the great evils of this world endlessly possible, or as endless as there is a world to sustain such foolish and enormously wasteful expenditure of finite energy.

Whatever your big question was that propelled you out from the thundering stampede, it now begins to formulate an answer.

You didn’t start out to go on some quest to the top of a mountain, to the jungle or in the deep desert – no, no such romantic idiocy that also brings you full circle. You just asked one big question, your big question. And only you, standing alone “far from the madding crowd” can ever formulate and hear the bits and pieces of your big answer. Only then will you also realize that it is on the formulation of that answer that you will cross the threshold into death and beyond where you will continue from one existential riddle to the next.  

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Inland pond – along the Fraser River, August 15, 2020

 

Where are the Roots?

[A thought-essay by   ~burning woman~   written by Sha’Tara]

Got this idea churning around in my head. Well, that’s nothing new, there’s always something churning around there, but this is broader  than any I’ve yet entertained outside of my tendency to imagine fiction and science fiction scenarios. It’s about man and his civilization.

There is no doubt whatsoever that civilized man (Homo Sapiens) is a totally invasive, parasitic species. Anybody can see it that wants to see. But what is not so easy to see, and I blame the programming for that, is that “his” civilization is a predatory monster; a monster that has been feeding on the planet and on the very species that believes it invented it and is “making it happen” so to speak. “Man” is civilization’s obedient slave, repeating, ad nauseam, all his previous mistakes, helplessly. Not because there is no better way; not because he could not try other ways; not because he doesn’t know of better ways but because these are the ways by which the monster feeds itself and through brainwashing, insures that the pattern is endlessly repeated.

If this is true then what is civilization? Is it simply the sum total of all that man has, is, and will, accomplish on Earth, as a species? Just a “record” of man’s passage, or is it much more? We have a tendency to always go along what is taught, what is repeatedly told and believed so this is my attempt to not do that; to present broad facts fully in evidence that no one is allowed to see or talk about.

Can we separate ourselves from our traditional beliefs and knee-jerk responses? Can we back out of the vehicle and observe “it” from a safe distance where is becomes possible to think that the vehicle man has been riding through time is really quite unsafe, dangerous, polluting, deadly to life in general and man is not in the driver’s seat?

From this unusual vantage point, let’s look at some aspects of the monster bus we cannot look at when we are stuffed in a seat halfway down the cluttered aisle and the blinds are shut tight so we can’t really see how the bus is destroying the natural environment it is passing through.  

How about analyzing the vehicle’s accomplishments over time, for example. I think, while we’re in the spirit of impeachment, it’s fair to consider civilization’s doings while in power over Earth and mankind. Since its inception, what has civilization contributed to the planet in terms of evolutionary improvements to the natural state of being? I can’t think of a single one but if you can, then how are such improvements embedded permanently in the natural processes that make this a living world? Which improvements over nature can be said to now be a permanent and essential part of the evolution of Earth? What has civilization contributed to the planet and everything that exists on it  which this world could no longer proceed without?

Going from civilization to man, what are man’s living roots in the living natural environment? When I speak of roots, I mean a measure of not just fair exchange of resources, as all other life forms here perform, but examples of how man’s presence has improved Earth’s natural biosphere… in some way or other. How is man contributing to and expanding the natural evolutionary process – emphasis on natural?

Again, I cannot think of a single way, but the list of diametrically opposite to constructive activities performed by man upon this world would be very long.

If this was a political situation and I was called upon to render a judgment on both, man and his civilization, I would call for impeachment. Guaranteed that I would not lack for witnesses to fully indict.  What does that say about man and his civilization, then? 

Question: If all evidence of man and his civilization were to vanish like fog in the morning sun how much worse off would this world be? 

  

Search for the Meaning of Life

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

Life, I ask myself, late in the night as I ponder reality: what is life? I know what I think it is; I know what I’ve read about it; I know many other peoples’ thoughts on it, but none of that answers my question. Is life a ‘what’? Is it a ‘who’? Is it a guide? Something to be endured, gotten over with on the way to something else?

I suppose my question makes as much sense as a sardine asking itself what the ocean is. Unless I can travel all of time and space, and beyond time, such it seems must remain the unsolvable riddle, the unanswerable question. Yet knowing this only makes me want to wander the labyrinth even more. I don’t want out of there until I have received a satisfactory answer.

Am I meant to live forever then, forever searching for an answer to my ultimate “Why?” and never arriving at that answer: is that how it works? Or, am I meant to discover the answer serendipitously, by assembling the puzzle pieces through a series of events based on some common sense and pure luck?

Is life the greatest master teacher or the final trickster? Or as some have tried to convince me, nothing more than a meaningless happenstance you go through once never to be heard of again?

If one were to either through luck or good management discover the secret of life, would that answer all the other “why’s” that led to the final answer? Wouldn’t I not then be asking why was such and such a process used to create all the pieces of life’s puzzle? Why pain? Why happiness overshadowed by loss? Why they good crushed under the jack boots of evil? Of sorrow and joy, why can’t one exist without the other?

Tonight I experienced another of those recurrent bouts of empathy for a world I don’t even particularly like or care for: a world I just happen to be in at this time. I “saw” people, not as groups, collectives, races, ages, genders, but as individuals, yes even in their billions, like rain drops falling in a storm-tossed ocean. It was a wave of sorrow for this world so powerful I had to find some support to lean on, my legs did not want to support me. The world, mankind, passed through my mind and all my physical energy was focused there.

Life, so it seemed, was passing through me as through a filter.  There were sobs, sighs and tears and I thought, yes, that is what it means to become an empath. You feel but it’s a knowing, aware feeling, not an emotion that flares and dies and leaves you free to continue where you left off. This changes you, each time it happens it gives birth to a new awareness of life, a new ‘you.’

So that’s where it’s at for me in my current understanding of the meaning of life. It is an endless birthing of new awareness; an awareness that determines the path I must walk until another birthing happens, then the path changes again. Push, feel the pain, along with the need to bring this about, push again and again, then rejoice in what is birthed.

Nurture this preciousness until the next time.

Life means there will always be a next time.

Forget Everything you know, or Think you know

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

I don’t make new year’s resolutions, that’s usually a given, but some years end in such a state, or condition, that they require some serious re-thinking.  For me that has meant two things: this would be a year of living frugally (yes, there’s always room to do some trimming, but it’s mostly about distancing myself from consumerism and banksterism) and of spending more time searching for better answers to the serious questions of life.

So I started with blogging by deciding I’d post an entire novel bit by bit, or blog post by blog post.  I’m not sure yet how many posts there are going to be, but my goal is to put one up ever two days. I thought that would be enough, not too much.

The reason to do this is less about the novel, more about a change of pace.  I’m going back to some of my original ‘teachings’ that warned me to eschew politics so you’ll see much less of that.  What I will probably do with those in-between days will be to post some ideas; some thoughts; on how the world of man (in particular) looks to me without being framed in politics, economics or religion. 

“Forget everything you know, or think you know,” is a good quote to start the way, followed by “Everything in the universe is created by our own mind. Our mind is the source of all phenomena. Form, sound, smell, taste, and tactile perception such as hot and cold, hard and soft—these are all creations of our mind. They do not exist as we usually think they do. Our consciousness is like an artist, painting every phenomenon into being. Once you have attained the state of the realm of no materiality, you will have succeeded. The realm of non materiality is the state in which we see that no phenomenon exists outside of our own mind.”

Do I agree with that? Not really, and it depends on which side of the great divide we are on, and even then, it depends on how we feel about it all.  When I was writing the novel, “The Antierra Manifesto” I was trancing much of it. I wasn’t so much putting a book together as I was remembering a slice of my own history. In other words, I was experiencing it knowing it was something I had been, and would be, involved in.  I was traveling back and forth from the future back into this present, aware that all of it was an aspect of me.

Now then, if everything in the universe is created by our own mind, who in her right mind would have ever created such a world as “Malefactus” (T’Sing Tarleyn)? Not me certainly.  Would such a place be attractive to some people? If yes, then here’s the interesting question: if I did not create such a hell, then somebody else did, either when my back was turned, or there was nothing I could do to prevent it at the time and having discovered it I’m stuck with it.

Here then is my conundrum: Does it matter that our mind is the source of all phenomena if it still manifests as one great big whole and each one of us is a puny helpless nothing in its midst, throwing our personal efforts in the works with as much effect as say, a gnat that crawled aboard a nuclear submarine will have on its guidance system?  

I see things that are glaringly wrong, but only so to me, and perhaps some victims of a particularly abusive system, but the problem is I am not the one who is creating the system and I cannot undo it. Point: it is most emphatically not in my mind!

So I’m told to enter into a state of immateriality where nothing exists outside of my own mind.  Oh sure, all well and good, but I’m still that same mind face to face with an abusive system.  I cannot take that system, bring it into my own mind and vanish it!

My conclusion at this point is that reaching a point of immateriality is only going to make materiality all the more poignant and strident because I will be observing it from a state of mind.  As a compassionate being I will be just as involved in the material inasmuch as I feel all of the life within it.  It will keep calling me back, whether I can do anything to help anyone, or just sit and cry… or laugh, or until I have learned how to return into the material and dance and die with it.  

This much I have learned.  If we choose to activate our compassion mode then we will live through infinity but it will not be to disappear from the material since that is after all what gives us the only reason we can come up with for existing as human beings. Our compassion will keep bringing us back to our material worlds but each time we will learn to approach them with greater, more meaningful joy and sorrow. 

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