The sorrow we have sown

Exhausted
By forests burning
I went home
Heavy in the knowledge
Of the death spiral
We have set ourselves on.
What to do?
Go mad, cry, protest, rebel.
I made tea –
Very English –
And somehow
Found myself
On the balcony
Planting seeds,
High-blooming flowers,
Now, in August,
Hardly planting time.
Never having sowed seeds
In desperation before
I was aware
That it was
A futile gesture,
But a gesture nonetheless.
Each seed was saying
Sorry
To the scorched earth.
I was sowing sorrow,
All the while
Knowing:
Go ahead,
Plant a million seeds
A million trees
Ten million
It will never be enough
To undo the damage
The earth has suffered
In my lifetime.
Not for a thousand lifetimes.
Even if it were all to stop
Tomorrow,
Our burning and poisoning,
There will never be
Enough seeds
To repair the sorrow
We have sown.

Amazon Burning, Day 16

So here we are
Breathing in plastic particles
While the Amazon burns.
Breathe in
Breathe out.
In Sao Paulo
The daytime sky
Is darkened by smoke
From the burning forest
Over a thousand kilometres away.
Breathe in
Breathe out.
The Amazon, we have been told
Is the lungs of the planet,
Sequestering massive amounts
Of CO2,
Effectively helping
To cool the Earth.
Breathe in
Breathe out.
What happens to our world
When our lungs
In themselves, an enivronmental
Miracle,
A unique, irreplaceable
Biosphere
Have been razed to the ground,
Privatized
Given over to
The production of
Soy
And beefburgers?
Breathe in
Breathe out.
Will future generations
– If there are any –
Celebrate the victory of
The entrepreneurial spirit?
Will they rejoice at the
Great Burnings of the early
Twenty-first century?
Or will they be struggling to survive
On a planet blasted
Blighted, maimed, broken,
Stricken by runaway warning.
Will they be gasping for air,
Wishing there was some way just to
Breathe in
And
Breathe out.

Easdale

Cross the only bridge over the Atlantic
And call for the ferry
To take you to Easdale
The dark isle
Black shingle beach
Jagged rock and bladderwrack
Sheer sided, limpet pock-marked
Slate screes down to glass-top pools
Workings filled by the storm
That put an end to working
Bringing exodus and decline
And turning places of dirt and dust
Death even
Into turquoise pools
Of wonderment.
Turning Easdale into a gem
A black obsidian beauty
Otherworldly and familiar
Quintessence of all childhood
Rock-scramblings
The gurgle of the ebbing outflow
From pool to sea
The most beautiful sound
The world has to offer
In this moment

 

Only Action

We’ve left it late.

Far too late to stop
Horrendous damage from being inflicted.

Even now,
Even now that we know,
Even now that we know about the potential
Scale of the damage

And the threat that continuing
In our business-as-usual fashion
Poses to all life on earth,

Even now,
Things are still getting worse.

It has taken us a long time to know
And we’re sorry

More than sorry –
Grieving
Keening
Lamenting for all our losses
All your losses

All the losses
and grief and destruction and death
that our not-knowing
has inflicted on you
and future generations.

Our not-knowing.

For too long,
We were simply not able to conceive of the fact
That our rulers,
Governments,
So-called captains of so-called industry
Would be prepared
In their ruling
In their dominion
In their dictatorships
To drive the planet
This planet
Our only shared home
To the brink of destruction
And beyond.

We couldn’t conceive it
Wouldn’t entertain it
Didn’t want to believe it.

And now
The passenger pigeons of our not-knowing
Are calling us home to roost.

Our ignorance
Is an expensive ignorance.
One that may still cost us the earth.

Our ignorance
Is a painful ignorance,
For us,
And you and you and you.

Ever since the first of us said out loud
This cannot go on
Said
This is killing the earth,
This
CO2
Oil
Gas
Methane
Pollution
Warming
Acidification
Deforestation
Drought
Treating living things as expendable commodities
Treating the natural world as a resource to be plundered
All of this
Is killing the earth
And all life on it.

Ever since those first words
Were spoken
We thought
That the saying of it would be enough
That the knowing of it
Would be enough.

For how could anyone know
And allow it –
want it even –
To continue?

But we were wrong.

Our not-knowing
Was a deadly waste of time.

The past thirty years  –
Thirty years of wasted time
Wasted lives
Thirty years of extinctions and degradations
Have taught us
That knowing it is not enough.

Only action is enough.

The rich and powerful
Have known all along  –
Exxon knew
Shell knew
BP knew
The military knew
Governments knew.

They knew
And they buried the truth.
Bury it still.

That knowledge was as nothing
Compared with their power
Their privilege
Their money
Their business as usual.

And all the time
We still had the hope
That someone somewhere
In power
Would see reason
See the light of day
Feel compassion
Do something.

And now
At this late hour
When the earth stands abused
When we can contemplate
Without fear of exaggeration
Her death
And ours
At this late hour
We are finally disabused
Of our foolish belief
That someone else
Will do this for us.

At this late hour
Already an hour of destruction
We finally know
That only action is enough

At this late hour
We finally know
That our only hope
Lies in ourselves, and in others like us:
To put our bodies on the line
To put our bodies into the streets
To stop the machines
Of filthy industry
To stop the machines
Of filthy power.

Only action is enough.

At this late hour
We must rebel
We cannot know the outcome
But we are already
Paying the price
Of our ignorance.

At this late hour
We know
that the price of inactivity
Is death.

At this late hour
We know
That in the face
Of extinction
We choose life.
That in the face of
Governments,
And oil, and industry,
Only action is enough.
Only action – action now –
Can ever be enough.

Snowballing

Snow’s here at last. It came late this winter, but it finally arrived, coming down in big, feathery flakes that made you forget the world, just for a second.

Always magical, snow. The stuff of dreams, and childhood winters, and wrapping up warm. Transformer of concrete wastelands into landscapes of otherness, vistas of the possible. With the lightest of touches, snow can bring traffic to a halt, turn a city on its head. Turn it into a place of wonder.

A single flake of snow is an ephemeral thing.

But an avalanche can sweep away all before it.

These days, like almost all weather phenomena, snow is not quite what it should be. Or at least, what it used to be.

After an unusually warm winter, the weather people told us that we’d better hunker down: The snow-bringing cold weather was going to be parked over our part of the world for at least four weeks.

That’s a new phenomenon here, “parked” weather systems.

It’s what you get when the Jet Stream starts to break down. When the winds that drive the weather systems around the world start to meander. When the temperature difference between the Arctic and the Equator is reduced.

When things start to get fucked up.

I said the winter has been warm here, but it’s been a tough old rollercoaster nonetheless. Maybe not so much weather-wise, but all the more so, soul-wise.

For anyone monitoring the situation as regards climate, and the broader health of the planet, this winter has been particularly harrowing, with some disturbing new concepts.

Let’s start with something you may not have heard of: a “bottom-up trophic cascade”. Trophic refers to food, and cascade here means a knock-on effect. Following on from reports from Germany of dramatic reductions of up to 75% in insect populations in protected areas, a report from the Costa Rican rainforest speaks of a 98% reduction in an area traditionally rich in insects. Insects, of course, form the base of the so-called food-chain for most forms of life, not just in the rainforest, but throughout the world. They pollinate the plant food we eat, and themselves act as food to most other animal life. So the “trophic cascade” the author of the Costa Rica report talks of basically means that when the insects go, everything else goes with it:

“We are essentially destroying the very life support systems that allow us to sustain our existence on the planet, along with all the other life on the planet…It is just horrifying to watch us decimate the natural world like this.”

To give this report a little context, it is estimated that 60% of the world’s mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have been wiped out since 1970.

And in case you were thinking that this widespread destruction of the food chain, a.k.a. “the web of life” (because contrary to popular belief, animals are more than just food) is somehow limited to land-based life forms, then you’d better prepare for a little disappointment: The oceans are not faring any better.

A recent report from Canadian broadcaster CBC was entitled “Building blocks of ocean food web in rapid decline as plankton productivity plunges”. Like insects on land, phytoplankton and zooplankton form the base of the ocean’s food system. Everything in the sea—including fish, whales and seabirds—depends on them to survive. When the plankton dies, everything else dies too. Seabird populations, for example, are reported to be 70% down since the mid-20th century. Populations of rare birds, such as puffins, Arctic skuas and kittiwakes are plummeting. In terms of the food chain alone, the ocean is in big trouble.

If that wasn’t enough, scientists recently estimated that global warming of the oceans is currently equivalent to between three and six atomic bombs per second. And that the last time the world’s oceans became this acidic this fast, 96% of marine life went extinct.

Where I am going with all of this? Just to make the point, in case you weren’t aware already, that what we, collectively, are facing, is not just a question of climate change, or even climate breakdown, as it is increasingly being called. Instead we are looking at an across the board Earth systems crisis.

I have been following this shit for years and everywhere you look, it just gets worse.

Almost everywhere.

The one thing that is genuinely heartening in the face of looming apocalypse is the huge upsurge in resistance to the inhuman system at the heart of this catastrophe. And most heartening of all, it is the young who are leading the way.

Last week, a record number of school and university students joined the #schoolstrike4climate movement: 70,000 worldwide. This may seem like a drop in the ocean given the global number of young people still in education, but it ought to be seen for what it is – a worldwide movement growing at a phenomenal rate. When 15-year old climate activist Greta Thunberg started her climate strike in front of the Swedish parliament in August 2018 she was completely alone. Now her call is being taken up around the world. The movement has grown by 70,000% in the space of just over 20 weeks.

By anybody’s reckoning, that is amazing.

The youth climate strike movement, according to the UK Guardian, is “snowballing”.

There is no central leadership, no “membership”. It’s a movement. A movement of young people, outraged by the complacency with which world leaders are prepared to sacrifice the future on the altar of short-term profit.

Likewise, the Extinction Rebellion movement is spreading across the world. And climate emergency resolutions are being passed in cities around the world, including Oakland,

Santa Cruz, London, Bristol, Vancouver. Populations covered by governments that have declared a climate emergency now exceed 17.5 million citizens in four English-speaking countries alone.

This is the way forward now. Maybe not the only way forward, but a way forward that does not rely on the goodwill of the one percent. We need to support and help build the school student strike in any way we can. We need to support and participate in all acts of non-violent protest and direct action that put climate breakdown and the broader Earth systems crisis on the agenda. We need to do all we can to help spread the Climate Emergency resolutions and declarations, not just at city and local council level, but also at the level of local organisations, particularly trade union branches and political parties. And we need to do it now.

It’s snowing. The clock is ticking. People are moving. Welcome to 2019.

 

[This piece was originally published in The Wild Word]

Stepping Up

Sometimes in history there are individuals who step up to take a collective burden upon themselves.

Sometimes they might be saying the exact same things as countless others, but their character and bearing lend a weight to their actions that strikes a chord in others, stirring them to action.

We’re talking here about a kind of moral authority that leads by example. An example that holds a mirror to our souls in these dark times and finds them not wanting, but full of potential.

An example that breathes life into our battered hearts, a palm, unclenched, bearing the radiant flower of the possible, the still-possible, in a time of deepest terror and despair.

Not that we have already plumbed those depths: I’m sure there is an endless well of terror and despair waiting to be realized, if we let it happen.

But for now, let’s talk about hope.

In her seminal work “Hope in The Dark”, Rebecca Solnit talks about hope not as “it will all turn out right in the end”, but as a leap into an inevitably dark future:

But hope is not about what we expect. It is an embrace of the essential unknowability of the world, of the breaks with the present, the surprises…. I believe in hope as an act of defiance, or rather as the foundation for an ongoing series of acts of defiance, those acts necessary to bring about some of what we hope for while we live by principle in the meantime. There is no alternative, except surrender. And surrender not only abandons the future, it abandons the soul.
Solnit, Rebecca. Hope In The Dark

 

Let me tell you a little bit about myself.

In 1989 I had been living in West Berlin for two years, in the north of the city, about a kilometre from the Wall that separated East and West. 

Like most people of the time I had been following developments in the East. Masses of people were on the streets, demanding reform. There was an increasing flow of refugees taking advantage of the open border with Czechoslovakia to seek asylum in the West German embassy in Prague. Pressure was building. The East German leadership had just announced that the wall “would be standing for another hundred years”. Police units in Dresden were being instructed to expect the possibility of the “Tiananmen Square option” in dealing with protesters.

No-one, East nor West, was expecting the Wall to be opened. No-one was expecting the collapse of the regime’s power.

But it happened. And, inconceivably, it happened without violence. The police in Dresden refused their orders. There was no slaughter of protesters. Only a river of disbelieving but joyous East Germans streaming across a border none of them thought they would ever live to cross.

It was a time when the powers-that-be on both sides were caught unawares. When power literally belonged to the people.

I remember listening to East German protest singer Stefan Krawczyk on the radio, with his song Wieder Stehen (a pun on “rise again” and “resist”):

For long enough we’ve lain on ice
Long enough we’ve cried in vain
But before the frost can take our hearts
Our stiff limbs must move again.

Hope won’t come before grief’s accepted
There’s no salvation in our impotence,
Life is but of short duration,
No time left for abstinence.

I am writing this during the final days of the UN climate conference – the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) – which is being held in Katowice in Poland. The conference itself is in such dire straits, is being so roundly sabotaged by big polluters and their supporting governments, that among activists it is being retitled the “Conference of the Polluters”.

But of course the state of the conference is nothing compared to the state of the Earth.

We are in the middle of the Sixth Extinction, losing 200 species a day. Animal populations are crashing. Carbon emissions show no signs of peaking, and the even more dangerous greenhouse gas methane is leaking into the atmosphere from thawing permafrost. The risk of runaway, uncontrollable heating of the planet grows greater by the day. The UN Secretary General has stated that we have until 2020 for carbon emissions to peak, if we want to stand some hope of reining in the level of damage climate change will inflict on the planet. Time is of the essence. Our so-called leaders prevaricate however, in thrall to the vested interests of the fossil-fuel producers, who have decided that the best way to deal with the crisis is to deny it, whilst maximizing profits.

We are in the middle of a full-blown planetary emergency, and our leaders are telling us to do – nothing.

What are the qualities we expect of leaders, or even first responders, in an emergency? I’m no expert, but I would suggest the following provisional list by way of an answer:

We would expect that person to remain calm, clearly state what was happening, and develop a plan, a way of tackling the crisis. We would expect laser-sharp focus on the crisis, and the exclusion of all extraneous issues. We would expect decisiveness, imperturbability, foresight. Tenacity, conviction. A willingness to stand alone if necessary and a strength of purpose, with enough moral authority to sway the undecided.

To the best of my knowledge, these were qualities in short supply amongst the government delegates to COP24, most of whom didn’t get where they are today by standing up against the interests of the fossil fuel companies.

Enter, stage left, a fifteen-year old girl. A young person who has been studying the effects of climate change from the age of nine. A girl who felt so depressed by the state of the planet that she spent a year not talking. Someone who thought that going on strike to save the climate would be a good idea, and who, when nobody joined her, just did it herself. Someone who camped out alone on the steps of the Swedish Parliament with a hand-painted sign saying “school strike for climate”. Someone whose Asperger’s syndrome has enabled her to focus on the sole issue of climate change to the exclusion of almost everything else.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not interested in hagiography. I’m just saying that in desperate times, sometimes people get leadership and inspiration from the most unexpected of places.

So, the scene is, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg goes to COP24 in Katowice and gets to give a speech to the UN Secretary General and the plenary session of the conference. The abridged version goes something like this:

For 25 years countless people have stood in front of the United Nations climate conferences, asking our nations’ leaders to stop the emissions. But, clearly this has not worked since the emissions just continue to rise.

So I will not ask them anything.

Instead I will ask the media to start treating the crisis as a crisis.

Instead I will ask the people around the world to realize that our political leaders have failed us.

Because we are facing an existential threat and there is no time to continue down this road of madness….We can’t save the world by playing by the rules. Because the rules have to be changed.

So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again.

We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge. And since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago.

This is the real revolutionary message of Katowice, delivered, not by some cigar-smoking veteran of a war of liberation but by a soft-spoken teenager with plaits in her hair.  A message implicitly sanctioned – to his eternal credit – by the Secretary General himself.

This is about as clear as it gets.

In the time frame left to us – less than two years to start bringing emissions sharply down – we can no longer count on our governments, or on the “One Percent”, having our best interests at heart.

They have betrayed us. They have betrayed Earth. They are so devoted to their so-called business model that they are willing to see the planet sacrificed on the altar of money and profit.

We have one chance, for ourselves, and for future generations: We must rise.

 

With regard to climate change, the future is still unwritten, although it may soon be set in stone, beyond any human influence.

Let me tell you a little bit more about myself.

I am desperately pessimistic.

I am also desperately optimistic.

My pessimism and my optimism are both born of my despair. My optimism is borne forth by the knowledge that our only hope now is action.

There is a saying in German which goes “Du hast keine Chance, aber nütze sie”. A rough translation would be “You don’t have a ghost of a chance, better make the most of it”.

The farce of the “Conference of the Polluters” is a slap in the face for us all.

But Greta’s message is echoing round the globe. Today, students in fourteen cities in Germany went on climate strike. Powerful demonstrations have been recorded in Australia, Canada, other European countries.

The youth are rising. Let us rise with them.

 

 

Paradise

Paradise burned to the ground last week
But they say they can rebuild it.
They say
We were negligent
And shouldn’t have left stuff
Lying around
To catch fire.

It’s been a long hot summer
Here in Paradise
Hotter and dryer
Than any of us can remember
And we remember
A lot.

Things have been strange
Here in Paradise
For a long time now
Strange and getting stranger.
There have been signs
And portents
And the older ones among us
Have been saying:
“This doesn’t look good”.

And now
It doesn’t look good.
Doesn’t look good at all.

Looks more like
Hell on Earth
To tell the truth.

Paradise is gone
And some of us are gone too.
And those that are still here
Are grieving
More than we can bear.

And you know
What hurts most
More than the fire
Or the deaths
Or anything
Is the idea
The stupid
Gasoline-selling idea
That the unique, fragile,
Interwoven web of life
That was Paradise
Can somehow
Be reconstructed,
As if it wasn’t
Irreplaceable.

As if we won’t be grieving
For the rest
Of our lives.

So when someone comes
To tell us
What we did wrong
And how great our
Future will be,
Don’t be surprised
If we turn our backs
And walk away.

Don’t be surprised
If we can never believe
A word they say
Again.

Paradise burned to the ground last week.
And now we’re ash.
Our lives are ash.
Our world is ash.
We’re cast out
Cast adrift.
But nobody’s going anywhere
Because
We’re broke,
Broken now,
And
There’s nowhere left to go.

November Rain

The November rain didn’t come this year.

It’s 17° C outside and my plants are wilting on the balcony.

I know it’s fall because the trees are aflame with orange and brown.

The entrance to our apartment building is full of dead leaves.

But outside guys are walking round in shorts.

Maybe that’s normal in your part of the world.

In mine it’s anything but.

I miss the fog. The damp. The smell of woodsmoke in the air and the intimation of approaching winter. The feeling you get in a November railway station where people are hunched up against the cold and hurrying to be home so they can be inside and warm and there’s still that sense of something beautiful coming, because it’s winter, right, and winter always brings a lot of intense, interior rituals along with it.

It’s 17° C outside and I don’t even know if winter is coming this year.

I sat drinking coffee with my partner in bed this morning. She said “Here’s a site that lets you calculate your carbon footprint.”

I said ok but my heart wasn’t in it.

Something inside me is dying and there’s not a thing I can do about it.

If I thought my personal carbon footprint would make a difference at this stage of the game I’d be on it, I swear.

If I thought personal consumer choices would turn this mess around, I’d be propagating it like no-one else.

But we’re beyond that now.

I guess what is dying inside me is the Earth.

That’s the way it is now.

I see beautiful autumn sunshine and my immediate association is “This is not normal.”

Nothing to do with the Earth is normal anymore.

Not the Anthropocene, not the IPCC Report, not the Hothouse Earth Scenario, not the Secretary General of the United Nations getting up and saying that we have fourteen months – as of September 2018 –  to reach Peak Carbon if we want some chance of planetary survival.

None of that is normal.

I would be ok with that, with the world not being normal, if the human world around me wasn’t behaving as if nothing is wrong.

As if everything is going to be just fine.

Maybe other things are just more important? Surely the incipient fascism that we are starting to experience around the globe is more worrying? Something we need to deal with first, before we can really start coming to grips with climate breakdown?

Well right, and wrong.

The way I see it, these are just two sides of the same coin.

Climate breakdown and the struggle for resources are propelling increasing numbers of people to undertake dangerous migrations to uncertain futures.

Large sections of the ruling class see their profits seriously endangered by the building pressure for decarbonized economies and are putting huge amounts of money into funding political parties that will defend the status quo.

Maintaining the status quo with regard to fossil fuel companies means consciously making the climate crisis worse. That, plus the drive for neoliberal deregulation, means that the super-rich are aiming to maximize profits while they can, at the expense of a liveable planet. At the expense of everyone else, in fact.

That, for example, is the core of the Trump agenda. But it’s also playing out in different forms and variants around the planet.

And this, I feel, is one of the most difficult things to comprehend. Not the agenda, but the fact that human beings can be so devoid of empathy, that they are prepared to contemplate death and destruction on an unimaginable scale, for all time to come, as long as their wealth remains untouched. As long as it is happening to other people.

The consequences of the super-rich agenda can perhaps best be described as planetary, ecocidal, genocidal criminal negligence. No, negligence is too passive a description. Maybe something more active: sabotage perhaps. Criminal damage on a global scale.

We have no problem thinking of the slave-owners of the pre-Abolitionist era as criminals, presiding over an inhuman system.

And yet we balk at thinking of our own super-rich in the same terms.  

I think that coming generations will have no such trouble making the analogy.

 

 

Blog / Twitter

Below is my Twitter feed, which I update regularly.
Also feel free to check out the links in the “Blog/Twitter” submenu for ongoing blog posts.

Yes, we must #PrayforAmazon. But we must do even more.

It's time to act – and the global #ClimateStrike gives us a chance to act together.

https://t.co/wHt2NfwGUp
#AmazonFires

https://t.co/TW1EkDajkN
"Go ahead,
Plant a million seeds...
It will never be enough
To undo the damage
The earth has suffered
In my lifetime....
Even if it were all to stop
Tomorrow,
Our burning and poisoning
There will never be
Enough seeds
To repair the sorrow
We have sown."

This is one of the most devastating graphics I have seen in my entire life. It details the fires burning in Latin America *in the past 24 hours*.
This is a continent in a death spiral
https://t.co/XFVRvGz5kR
#AmazonFire #WorldOnFire #ClimateEmergency

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