Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Letter to America During the Summer of Shame: Imagining the 4th of July, 2010

Is everyone afraid?
You should be ashamed
Apocalyptic screams
Mean nothing to the dead.
Kiss your little son
To know all there is.
Come on, last call
You should want it all.
- Doomsday Clock, Smashing Pumpkins

One could compare America’s response to the greatest environmental disaster in history to the stages of grief. First there was rampant denial, and the denial continues with the deliberate withholding of facts and imagery. There’s bargaining too, but anger and despair are taking root across great swaths of America. This is a toxic emotional mix. The question on this 4th of July will be, what does America have left to celebrate? What does it stand for?

A new revolution must be at hand, a revolution of the mind, guided by a dream of an utterly new sort of independence. We are only as good as the future we imagine and set out to create. As it stands, mired in blame and business as usual, America is merely fulfilling the vilest visions of its fraudulent and amoral ruling class, which has apparently been salivating for apocalypse ever since Ronald Reagan assured a televangelist that “We may well be the generation that sees Armageddon.”

But America should stop and ask itself: Is it really your purpose to create Hell on Earth? Is that what American children deserve – to have their health and hopes for the future snuffed out on the altar of greed and self-loathing? America, did your forefathers strive and sacrifice so you could turn the Promised Land beneath your feet into a wasteland in the blink of an eye?

Trashing Nature, turning Creation into waste, has been profitable for America until now. But reckoning has literally come to its shores. With the yawning fountain of eternal filth now unleashed, as Nature’s fury unfolds, American minds must also tip over a precipice into new and revelatory territory. To create Hell on Earth is the worst atrocity. America must reveal and accept reality for what it is, not for what it’s wished to be. Truth must be told.

“Only a people whose minds are twisted beyond an ability to perceive truth could act in ways which will threaten future generations of humanity.”
- Declaration of the Iroquois

All of America, and the American paradigm that dominates the world and fuels civilization, is complicit in this atrocity. To blame just BP is myopic. When an addict overdoses, is only the dealer to blame? This is America’s bleed-out.

On the most basic level, we need truth-tellers, independent scientists and journalists, to document what is really happening in the Gulf and to its people. Once truth is flowing as freely as the oil and gas that it’s up against, sober plans based on reality, not wishful thinking, must be made by the people whose lives are actually hanging in the balance. But I wonder who can imagine, or hold in their mind all at once, the vast matrix of prosperity that is now dying and spiraling out of control?

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
- from The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

Even if America’s stagecraft government seized the corporation and liquidated it (which would accelerate international financial collapse), this would yield next to nothing. All that money can only forestall suffering by a few weeks or months, but certainly not for decades. America’s reckoning, the first reckoning, will begin with the dawning horror that money cannot solve anything of this magnitude. No human invention, money included, can solve this problem, only a change of mind.

The refugees of the Gulf coast – imagine the families who shared the ocean with their children, who spread the ashes of their loved ones on its eternal surface, who spent their lives working on it – they are suffering without any means to survive and they will swamp the American economy. Nothing can compensate for the destruction of Nature. Money truly is the root of evil in this story. As the Deepwater Horizon installation manager allegedly screamed over the phone to his headquarters in Houston: “Are you fucking happy now? Are you fucking happy? The rig’s on fire. I told you this was going to happen.” Before the rig sank, the fire burned so brightly that no eyes could look directly at it and the heat peeled the paint off the rescue boats. This is the true cost of the fuel that runs America.

But new waves of economic refugees are only a part of this awful picture. Consider the implications of port closures in the Mississippi River, plummeting state and federal revenue, crippled national trade, rising oil prices, and the ripple effects of these and all the other terrible consequences unraveling all at once. America’s federal system will be impotent to stop the hemorrhage of its own prosperity.

When things start to go sour, when the Obama administration is exposed as a group of mortals waving a sword at a tidal wave, the United States could plunge into a long period of precarious social and political instability.
- from The Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges

The second reckoning for America will happen when its mortality is revealed under the weight of these blows. The old America is collapsing. What will rise from the ashes – the fascism of a total corporate order? Or a renewal and rebirth, as all spiritual traditions counsel us? America, if you are really a Christian nation, you should read and read again your supposed teachings on love, mercy, compassion, humility and grace.

The third reckoning will take hold once the old America is understood as a corrupt and fraudulent stain that should not be saved, because it cannot be saved. Nature, God, gravity will not allow it.

America, you must wake up and remake yourselves. Learn what timeless priorities you have left to salvage, and discern what should be left in the past, as everyone must do in the transition to maturity.

If the tides are going to turn, the fourth reckoning must be one of gratitude. Gratitude for existence. Every adult, every town and city, should be grateful for its existence and do whatever is necessary to protect its life and encourage it to flourish again. Only then can the fifth reckoning be one of purpose. Americans must defy manufactured hatreds and stand together once more in the knowledge that prosperity comes from a healthy and democratic land. That alone is what makes healthy, happy people. Dismantling the old tools of destruction and rehabilitating Nature is your purpose. If you cannot do it for yourselves, do it for everyone’s children, and for every spark of life that strives to exist on Earth.

America, on this 4th of July all you have left to celebrate is the land beneath your feet and the waters that bring it to life. What you must stand for is a new vision to protect your endowment at all costs, from this day forward.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Understanding the Gulf Oil Disaster is Ecocide

“Ecocide – the murder of the environment – is everybody’s business.”

An encyclopedia entry from 1969. It hurts to read it 41 years too late. Ecocide is what happens when we kill the ecology on which our lives depend. It’s suicidal. Ecocide is the crime and punishment of this century.

“When man becomes greater than nature, nature, which gave him birth, will respond.”

– Loren Eiseley, US anthropologist and philosopher

“We are become as Gods, destroyers of worlds.”

- J. Robert Oppenheimer quotes the Bhagavad Gita after watching the first nuclear explosion in the New Mexico desert

“The time has come … for destroying those who destroy the Earth.”

- Revelations 11: 17-18

Ecocide, in scientific terms, happens when so many species in an ecosystem are killed that it disrupts the ecosystem’s structure and function. The Gulf Oil Disaster is ecocide. Ecocide has epic importance. This year, the UN is being petitioned to accept ecocide as a fifth "crime against peace" along with genocide and other crimes against humanity.

Over the next months and years, consider the people who rely on the Gulf of Mexico for life - and not just on the American side. The Gulf of Mexico is a tri-national living treasure, “the Mediterranean Sea of North America.” It’s the ninth largest body of water on Earth. It supports billions of living creatures, including millions of people, and hundreds of millions of North America’s birds rely on the Gulf during their yearly migrations. The Gulf of Mexico also plays a “vital role in generating oxygen, taking and holding carbon, distributing nutrients, stabilizing temperature, yielding freshwater to the skies that returns as rain -- contributing to the ocean's planetary role as Earth's life support system.” The Gulf affects the water cycle of the eastern half of the North American continent, which has apparently led some Russian government scientists to predict “total destruction” from toxic rainfall.

Doomsday scenarios aside, one only needs to use common sense to appreciate the apocalyptic magnitude of this oil and gas gusher. The commander of the International Space Station has lamented how “very scary” it looks from outer space. And it’s growing bigger every passing minute.

The Gulf provides means of life in five American states (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas), as well as five Mexican states (Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan) and Cuba. While prevailing wind and ocean currents will send the oil, gas and chemical witches’ brew to the north and east, the devastation to the entire food chain and water column will have damning repercussions in every bay, in every wetland and river mouth, and in every coastal community. As the seabed continues to disgorge oil and gas, the entire Gulf basin – already stressed by agricultural runoff, climate change, over-fishing, mining and other pollution – moves ever closer to systemic exhaustion.

The oceans of the world are connected by myriad chemical and climatic processes. Consider the container of rubber duckies that fell off a Chinese ship in 1992. Over the next 15 years, the duckies ended up travelling to every corner of the world. Nothing is an isolated event, let alone this catastrophe. The Gulf Stream starts in the Gulf of Mexico, exits the Straits of Florida and flows up the eastern coastline of the United States, passing by Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, Canada. It then crosses the Atlantic Ocean and splits in two. One stream goes to northern Europe, the other stream re-circulates off West Africa. This is an event of worldwide significance, and not just because it will accelerate the extinction of Atlantic bluefin tuna. The Gulf Oil Disaster will accelerate the extinction of life on Earth, period.

The Gulf of Mexico is a critical, diverse and abundant part of the global ocean. But ecocide doesn’t just threaten the Gulf’s gigantic marine web of life, which stretches from microscopic oxygen-producing plankton right up to sharks, sperm whales and the 5,000 dolphins now calving in the path of destruction. The ocean is what makes life on land possible, so many other species, from birds and alligators to bobcats and river otters, will perish along with their fish food sources.

Despite the disgusting media blockade by US federal and BP workers who are trying to stop photo and video evidence of the immensity of the disaster from reaching the public – despite the threat of arrest by local police – people on the ground will continue to document the expanding crisis. There’s now allegations of wifi and cellphone connections being jammed at spill sites to suppress the dissemination of evidence, and allegations that animal carcasses are being hauled away under cover of night. This possibility is chilling, but so is the lack of health and safety precautions for workers and coastal residents, and the image of BP using inmate labour in the cleanup effort.

But let’s take the big picture view. Any media “cover up” will only postpone and further inflame the rising tide of outrage, disgust and despair. Lies about the severity of the crisis will only make the long-term situation worse, similar to BP’s dispersants. Dispersants may “hide” some oil under the water’s surface, away from the cameras, but these chemicals exponentially exacerbate the ecological toll. Eventually reality will crush the PR illusions coming from BP and the White House. Truth, like the oil, gas and neurotoxic pesticides, cannot be neatly contained.