Ricardo Salles Vs The Amazon

At 3pm on Monday in São Paulo, night fell. And yet, for the local paulistas there was nothing restful about it. Artificial and pungent, it was the result of rampant wildfires that are eating away at eight Amazonian states. In many ways, the thick smoke was a case of the chickens coming home to roost. In a city that glistens with greed, the black blood of the Amazon is everywhere.

Photo Credit: Rafael Goldzweig (@schmuziger)

Call it irony, pathetic fallacy —the terminology doesn’t matter. Brazil is losing the war on climate, and there is no going back. Not without radical, international pressure. Any local campaign to save the planet will not be polite like the ones in Europe. The environmental activists, the Greta’s of the Global South, are dead. Shot down in the heart of the Amazon by illegal loggers. You might wonder what you have to do with this? Why you should even care at all? And yet the reason they are setting it on fire is to feed the growing global appetite for meat, soy and coffee. I do not say this to scare you or to trick you into feeling guilty. I say it to remind you that it is all connected. We are all connected. And together we must put a stop to this massacre.

To understand how we got here one has to understand Brazil — it’s size, it’s people, it’s politicians. As the fifth largest country in the world, Brazil is enormous, bigger than Europe yet still considered a developing nation. The reasons for this are multiple but many of them can be traced back to colonialism in which its latent wealth was siphoned off and sent to Portugal.

Contrary to Western opinion, Brazil is not all rainforest and beaches. It is home to a staggering array of landscapes, from the crackling cerrado (Savannahs) to the undulating wetlands of the Pantanal. Two thirds of the Amazon Rainforest sit within its borders, making it one of the most biodiverse nations on Earth.

And yet, Brazil’s natural gems occupy a curious position in the public imagination. While the great rivers and forests are generally a source of pride for Brazilians, the people who live there are not. Be those indigenous communities or members of long-suffering quilombos, for Brazilians blighted by Eurocentric conditioning, they are a reminder of Brazil’s lack of development.

It’s a notion that has been courted and encouraged by the controversial new Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles. The poster boy for the powerful Brazilian beef caucus, he is on a mission to privatize the Earth’s lungs. For anyone looking to survive beyond 2050, the timing couldn’t be worse.

Fresh from an appearance at the annual AgriShow in Brazil, Salles spent the month of June visiting impoverished communities that surround areas of particular commercial interest. One such visit was to the Chico Mendes Reserve, a 2.3 million acre area of pristine rainforest placed under protection in 1990.

The trip was documented via a Tweet on Ricardo Salles Twitter account in which he decried the living conditions of the reserve’s 25,000 residents.

Translation: “900 thousand hectares. Thousands of people on the verge of living in misery. The farce of “florestania” (sustainable forestry). They cannot, nor do they want to, survive from the rubber tree, the açaí and the Brazil nut. They want to raise cattle, plant coffee and produce fish in tanks. They (governmental environment protection agencies) will not let you.”

That the minister for Environmental Protection should be seen advocating for big agribusiness is perhaps not a surprise in Bolsonaro’s Brazil. What is impressive, however, is the rhetoric being used to accomplish it.

In just 140 characters, Salles deliberately conflates two pressing social issues: rural poverty and environmental conservation. The straw man goes something like this. In supporting the protection of endangered lands, one is not just an enemy of progress but a threat to the prosperity of rural Brazilians.

It’s a slippery move but not entirely out of character. In 2016, Salles was charged with administrative impropriety for his role in the manipulation of the Environmental Management Plan of the Tietê River Basin. The Public Prosecutors Office accused him of modifying the maps developed by the University of Sao Paulo with the specific aim of benefiting national mining companies.

The recent tragedies in Mariana and Brumadinho tells you everything you need to know about the respect this industry has for human life.

Flanked by members of the Mendes community, Salles once again draws on the festering frustrations of a nation who’s wealth has always been just out of reach. Rather than atribute blame to corrupt elites or colonial powers, he instead focuses on environmental protections, without which the target of keeping global warming under 2 degrees cannot be achieved.

That the sustainable rubber tapping and nut harvesting that takes place on this reserve is not as immediately profitable as cattle raising is without question. And yet, it’s beyond the pale to suggest that industrialised farming will produce the kind of living standards these rural communities crave.

In the last 6 months alone, Brazil’s Queimada Programme has registered 74,000 forest fires, the worst of which have been centred in Roraima and Amajari. More than 2 thousand families who live off the land lost their livelihood as plantations, pastures and fish plants went up in flames.

The increase in forest fires is both an intended and unintended consequence of monocultural farming practices. On the one hand, there are the illegal loggers and clearers, who use fires to clear rainforest so it can quickly sold as sparse grazing pastures for cattle. Then there are the farmers themselves, who’s poor management of land often sends them in search of greener pastures.

The deliberate loosening of environmental protection under Bolsonaro has served as carte-blanche for loggers to set fires with impunity. As a result, the number of forest fires in Amazonian states has sky-rocketed by an average of 85% in the last eight months alone.

These wave of ecological tragedies offer just a tiny insight into the critical condition of environmental protection in Brazil, a situation that was publicly laid bare on the front of this month’s Economist magazine. In a harrowing report, the author revealed what scientists have long feared. That unprecedented deforestation is threatening to transform the world’s largest carbon sink into a barren, inhospitable desert.

In a world on fire, we are all refugees.

Such a grim and dystopian future was met with disdain by President Jair Bolsonaro. The head of the Brazilian National Space Research Institute, Ricardo Galvao, was fired for his role in divulging the data, and plans put in place for a new system to assess environmental damage.

As luck would have it, nature made it impossible to bury the hatchet, sending rolling waves of black smoke over the city of Sao Paulo.

Salles, once more took to Twitter, paraphrasing a letter from the INPE (now edited) in which he attributed blame to a cold weather front and forest fires raging in neighbouring Bolivia.

Such negligence in the face of fire is indicative of what Salles clearly finds to be an unbearable contradiction: a mineral rich Amazon and a government perfectly poised to exploit it.

It’s an agenda that was on display once again in today’s Financial Times, in which he called for “capitalist solutions” to the environmental crisis. This demand belies not just a flagrant disregard for his office, but a fundamental misunderstanding of what is at stake. Climate change is not a Bolshevik plot, but rather the inevitable consequences of a system that posits forests as real estate for the highest buyer. Without them, there is no us, no future, no hope, a fact that has been clearly outlined in the IPCC’s latest climate report.

In dipping beneath the unctuous public veneer, a grim picture of Salles emerges. Neither the People’s Prince nor a defender of public health, he represents the ugly face of corporate interest, prepared to co-opt any narrative he can in the pursuit of short-sighted financial goals.

If we wish to save what is left of the Amazon rainforest, solutions must be immediate and bold. They certainly won’t be found in meeting with large car manufacturers, as Salles did on the 6th August, to discuss the lifting of taxes on polluting industries.

With the announcement of a new trade deal between MercoSul and the European Union, we find ourselves at an important crossroad. Any trade negotiations must be subject to strict scrutiny, favouring nations whose environmental policies are in line with the ambitious targets set by the European Union itself. Most importantly, we need men like Ricardo Salles to wake up and smell the scorched earth. History will judge him either way.  

The Art of Remembering

It was winter and the heat was beginning to tighten around Aiyana’s body. At one end of the square garden, the uppermost branches of an oak tree swayed listlessly, stripped of its swish and thrash. The hedgerow had been forced into early retirement and the staff of the Sunnyside Rehabilitation Centre had erected a bristling electric fence in its place. Aiyana shifted in the plastic garden chair, cursing the humid suit that clung to her skin. Usually, the nurses only allowed the patients outside for forty minutes a day. They found that too much exposure to the elements often caused relapses in their charges. Strange undesirable regressions like thinking that food could grow out of the ground. Or else whispering something that sounded like season over and over again, the way a toddler test-drives the word Dad. But this afternoon, even the nurses in their short sleeves couldn’t bear to stay indoors, impossible as it was to ignore all the fusty mouths breathing in the same air.

The threadbare lawn and silent bulb boxes bewildered Aiyana. What was it all for? She thinned her eyes and made out a smudge of colour in the box closest to the fence. Shaking to her feet, Aiyana raised a withered hand to help shield her eyes. Rather than suffocate until January in the baked earth, two veiny blue crocuses had gasped out of the soil only to keel over almost immediately in the morning sun. Aiyana shambled over and bent to pat their stringy corpses, the way you would a dog or a well-behaved child. What were they? Their flesh was soft and crinkled like hers. It tore easily and between its lips was a sinewy yellow heart. She had seen things like this before. There had been food, lots of it. And people. A wedding, perhaps. And something very much like this, bunched like banknotes in the fist of the bride. Who had been getting married that day? And what had the colourful money symbolized? She wasn’t sure but thought that they were rather beautiful, passed out on the earth.

Aiyana felt a hand on her back and stood up slowly. It was Sandra, the head nurse, scrunched from decades of cigarettes and eating the state-sponsored NutraFix. She was responsible for taking the patients for their weekly shower. Sandra enjoyed watching as they rinsed the human film from their bodies. You’re a dirty old girl, aren’t you, Four? She would say, fingers feeding a cigarette back and forth to her sour lips. Aiyana was desperately afraid of the bathroom’s slippery edges and choked on the idea of falling in front of Sandra. If it ever happened, she would almost certainly need her help to get back up. The thought of Sandra’s iron fingers digging into the gauzy flesh of her naked back, drawing her close, filled her with something not unlike dread.

“What are you playing with there, Four?” asked Sandra, lipstick feathering at the edges of her shrunken mouth.

Aiyana stayed silent. The nurses didn’t like talk of before. It contradicted the new curriculums they had in schools. It was the whole reason Aiyana and the others were here in the first place.

“I’m not sure,” she murmured eventually.

Sandra’s cheek twitched. “I think it’s time for a nap, don’t you?”

She nodded and felt Sandra loop under her arm, sharp nails nipping at her straggly bicep.

Aiyana began each morning with a circuit of mental exercises. She waded deep inside of herself, sifting through the sediment of her brain for any fragments of the past. But it was like panning with a broken net, and the plastic remains of things and people often slipped right through her. On the rare occasion that Aiyana was able to hang on to a memory, she would scrutinise its every curve and recess before delving inside the mattress for her notepad and capturing it on the page in as much detail as possible. She’d already traced everything she could remember about the time before. People had worked constantly. Everything was green, so green you could cut your eyes just looking at it. Christmas was cold and cars wore frosted white chemises. Your eyes could roam deep into the distance, picking up hills, mountains and churches. Breathing didn’t grate the throat.

Some memories were harder to retrieve than others but she instinctively knew that these were the ones worth latching onto. She had rescued one just last week, plunging deep into the bedrock of mush and pulling it out, salt-puckered and riddled with holes. She was six or seven, squeezing a rubbery teat beneath a black and white animal, hot liquid steaming out into a bucket. Her miniature self had dipped her head to the bucket and lifted it up, taking a long rattling slurp. She couldn’t remember the taste but that wasn’t what was important. It was proof. Proof that the videos the nurses forced them to watch in the lounge about the Monsanto labs were utter crap. Food hadn’t always been made in fermenter tanks. There had been something else, something better, before the sachets of NutraFix.

But it was so easy to become muddled. The daily doses of Zolpidem ensured that Aiyana’s memories were off limits to her, moored on the coast of some uncharted island. Her room didn’t help; its pale blue washed walls lending themselves to forgetfulness. Painted in a sweeping circular motion, their currents drew you in then froze you out. There was nothing for the mind to hook onto other than a thin slit opposite her bed through which the nurses made their hourly observations.

This morning she was stuck on her husband. There had certainly been someone after him, but she couldn’t confidently have told you where one had ended and the other begun. She strained for a moment. If there were a nurse at the window they would think her incontinent. The first husband had wanted someone who didn’t take herself too seriously. That was right. A woman whose knots had been worked out and tied into a pretty pink bow. It had seemed to involve a lot of giggling when actually she wanted to vomit. Stomach aching as he told her to calm down, it wasn’t a big deal, everybody fucked their… who was it he’d done? A colleague or a childhood friend, someone just out of her reach. Her attempts to overlook his transgression had been like trying to gargle a mouthful of gravel. Every time she went to speak she would feel a lump the size of a hard-edged pebble embedding itself deeper into her throat. Funny, how that had mattered then. When things had started going missing, necessity had become a bitter lozenge that’d soothed those pains.

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Aiyana reached beneath the yellowed blankets, fumbling with the fitted sheet until she felt the braided ridge of the mattress. She slipped her finger inside a small slit in the lining and pulled out a burst of foam and a tiny notepad. She wriggled deeper for the pen and drew both out onto the tent of her knees. On the last page was a drawing she had made when she first arrived at the home all those years ago. It looked like a child’s doodle, shaky and half scribbled out; the soft spot where vision becomes frustration. Aiyana had drawn it just as they had given her the first dose of Zolpidem and the world was leaking colours. She ran her quivering fingers over the outline that stood up on the page like scar tissue. Why had she drawn this? It was an insect of some kind with little looping wings and a monochrome jacket. She gnawed down past the gristle of the memory, running her tongue over its cool bone surface. If she could just suck the truth out of it, the last few years would run clear.

She sat that way for several minutes until she heard a sharp buzz in the corridor as one of the nurses unlocked the door to the main hallway. It was time for breakfast. Aiyana repeated the noise, letting it breeze out of her mouth. Bzzzzz. The creature seethed in the foggy tendrils of Aiyana’s mind. It had been noisy, that was right. Noisy but gentle.

There was a ripping sound and the door to Aiyana’s room swung open. A male nurse hovered in the doorway, all cracked lips and loose jowls. She jumped, heart skipping out of its comatose rhythms, a stone darting across the surface of a lake.

“Breakfast time, Four,” the nurse drawled. He looked neither here nor there, delivering his words in the same weightless fashion in which he woke up each morning.

Aiyana rumpled the notepad up in her hand, trying to make it as small as possible. Old people could pull off flustered and she faffed with her sheets before moving towards the door.

Only the women slept on the bottom floor. The men were the runners. In the time that Aiyana had been in the home there had only been one breakout. A runty looking man named David had made it past the electric fence and into the world beyond. He’d been a journalist in his old life, one of the last before the whole industry went under. Aiyana wondered what was out there, whether there was anything left to run to.

As she muddled through the dusty hallway behind a woman with varicose veins on her calf, Aiyana wondered, did the creature bite? For some reason she thought not. Their slippers dragged in apathetic synchrony across the linoleum until they reached a beige living room. Blu-tacked upon the walls were pictures of the nurses with their Health and Wellbeing certificates. Aiyana had never seen Sandra as happy as she was in that picture, hands cinched around her award. Some of the less mobile residents were parked in their usual positions around the television. It wasn’t on but they watched the blank screen intently nonetheless, mouths popped open. The home was ripe with the residues of its elderly clientele, a distinctive tang of rotting flesh and talcum powder that was somehow muted to aged nostrils. There were several younger patients and Aiyana often wondered if the daily contact with decline made them age any quicker.

Breakfast was the same as lunch and dinner. There was no need for a dining room and the majority of the patients sat on the floor or in plastic garden chairs, depending on whether the staff had bothered to bring them back in. Sandra swooped among them, dropping a small NutraFix sachet the size of a postcard into the lap of each patient. It’s packaging was black and at odds with the beaming blond woman on the front. She was white and spare in the way that had been all the rage after the first famine. The woman promised four hours of no fuss nutrition and dramatically improved energy levels. Aiyana stripped back the perforated wrapper and pressed its edge to her hanging lips. With an encouraging squeeze it oozed into her mouth. It was as if someone had dredged the ass of a pond and then added sweetener. Aiyana felt it bulge between the gaps of her teeth and started scraping it off with the edge of her tongue. She tried not to gag as an unexpected morsel lodged in her throat. It wouldn’t do to be sent to the matron. Not now.

To the left of the television was a door covered in black and yellow tape. The word HAZARD was emblazoned upon a plaque underneath which a man in free-fall seemed to be choking on a jagged bolt. Aiyana thought the colours were strange together. Dangerous. The fuzzy creature bristled in her pulpy brain, emitting a soft monotone buzz. What if it hadn’t been black and white? Things in the outside world rarely were. Black. Yellow.

With a sudden surge of energy, the creature barrelled out of the foggy maze of her parietal lobe, and embedded itself with a shuddering sting into the soft bulge of her hippocampus. Aiyana gasped, almost fitting as her throat became congested with the grey sludge. It was a honeybee. Yes! They had been the start of everything. And there had been food, so much that they had to throw it away. It was the bees that had made the food possible. She wasn’t sure how, some little communion of magic and evolution. Their absence had lead to the demise of the last world and she, like many others, hadn’t fully understood the effects of this at first. Everyone had known that something bad was happening, but the problem never really seemed real. Like trying to grasp smoke. First, it had been a brown people problem. Lack of investment in the right technologies. Her husband had sniggered when he heard that Bangladesh had gone under. We’ll be able to speak to an Englishman on the phone now, honey! By the time the chaos was spilling into white kitchens it was too late. Lashed on by the changing seasons, the honeybees had arrived desperately early to the spring dance and failed to find enough nectar to see them through the following winter. The adult workers went missing, fleeing the hive en masse, never to return. Towards the end, to see one was considered a sign of great fortune. The colour yellow became holy. Slowly but surely, things started disappearing from supermarkets. Long green-stemmed vegetables and the sweet purple balls were first. Aiyana’s neighbours became foxes, staging night raids on the local bakeries and corner shops, their eyes hot with hunger.

The truth wasn’t as gratifying as she’d hoped. It was like flipping through your family tree only to find that your great uncle twice removed was a serial killer with a fetish for skinny blond boys. Her mouth was incredibly dry. Her tongue flopped uselessly, tasteless and inert. She retched twice, bringing up reams of the pond sludge and the living room started to drift. Great forests and rivers of honey swirled behind her eyelids. Aiyana bent forwards, sure she was about to take a dip and felt the dead stalks of her arms being lifted into the custody of a nurse.

They came for Aiyana eventually, hypodermic needles poised between their claws like French Vogue cigarettes. After finding the notepad it was clear she wasn’t ever going to be compatible with the treatment. She knew too much. Aiyana received meds around the clock. Her garden visits were reduced to once a week. Each aching day, the sun poured in through the shit-stained skylight and hung like a dusty veil at the foot of her bed.

As the sun bled out on one of her last trips outside, Aiyana grew increasingly panicked. There was a brown monster at one end of the garden. Enormous limbs grew out of it in long uneven stabs. She kept her drooping eyes trained on it, careful in case it tried to lurch towards her when she wasn’t looking. The large silver fence must be there to keep it from escaping. To distract herself from its menacing outline she tried to remember her name. Surely it couldn’t be Four. It was something warmer. Sweeter somehow. Aayuhhh… Aiyeee…

While Aiyana sat wheezing in the dusk, a furry little winged insect came humming past her left ear. She batted it away, alarmed by its malevolent strum. Punch drunk from the smack and the balmy February air, the bee spun like a downed helicopter, coming to rest at last on the throbbing ground.

National American Indian Heritage Month: Token Gestures

Today marks the final day of National American Indian Heritage Month, a national holiday invoked by the world’s most fervent philanthropist, Mr. George W. Bush.

With Thanksgiving leftovers still cooling in the fridge, the US Army on Sunday issued a statement ordering the closure of the main encampment of activists at Standing Rock in North Dakota. The land, known colloquially as Oceti Sakowin, is just north of the Cannonball River where tribes-people and environmentalists have been congregating in their thousands to oppose the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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That this latest denial of indigenous rights has occurred in November, the very month that purports to uphold the rights of America’s much-abused indigenous population, comes as no surprise.

Tribes have always paid the price for American prosperity.

The 1,200-mile long pipeline has been fiercely contested since its conceptualization in 2014. If construction goes ahead, it will carry 470,000 barrels of domestically produced crude oil across 3 states, from North Dakota to Illinois.

The pipeline was initially scheduled to run just north of Bismarck, but the project was rerouted away from the overwhelmingly white city due to fears about the possible contamination of water supplies. The good people of Bismarck had legitimate cause for concern; it transpires that these pipelines do leak, and often. Since 1995, more than 2,000 significant accidents involving oil and petroleum pipelines have occurred, creating roughly $3 billion in property damage. Of these 2,000, Polaris Institute found that 804 of these spills could be attributed to pipes supplied by Enbridge Energy partners, the majority stakeholders financing the North Dakota Pipeline.

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Copyright: Carl Sack, Cartographer, 2016

It would appear that Energy Transfer Partner’s operating principles to work with individuals to “make accommodations and minimize disruptions” are not applicable when it comes to black or brown landowners. Riding the tailcoats of Trump’s certain lives matter campaign, the pipeline will continue America’s legacy of exploitation of the lands of Indian people.

The Sioux tribes’ complaint is both historical and philosophical. 

In the 1830’s, President Andrew Jackson ordered Native Americans in the South to leave their homelands and move to the Great Plains. After their eviction from the tribal lands they had occupied for the last 12,000 years, the white populace were invited to seize and settle at will. This careless removal policy serves like lunch money for a bully and has permitted the State to shunt indigenous people from region to region for the last 500 years. The Dakota Access Pipeline reveals how governmental lack of regard for indigenous culture remains intact.

Kayla DeVault, youth ambassador for indigenous matters for the White House, in her speech to the UN in November said “to be impoverished does not always equate to having no financial leverage. Hardships come in many forms“.

To truly understand Standing Rock and the integrity of the sacred land the pipeline threatens to destroy, it is necessary to try to glean a holistic understanding of Native Indian perspective.

DeVault describes their governing values of interdependence and connectedness; a religious bond to each other, the land, the four elements which build all life, the four seasons that govern time. Hardships are also felt in fours:

  1. To hear an orphan cry, as it was a terrible sound.
  2. To lose a child, an indescribable pain.
  3. To lose your mother.
  4. To not know where your warriors fell.

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Sitting Bull (1885) – Standing Rock Sioux (Copyright: Creative Commons)

The Dakota Acess Pipeline comes into conflict with several of their guiding doctrines. It will rip into sacred burial lands, threaten the security of the local water supply and disrupt the wider health of the planet. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe belong to a culture that saw their ancestors culled from 16 million to 250,000. The desire to hang on to the remains of their ancient cultural heritage is not difficult to understand, and this ritual of remembering happens to be firmly embedded in their land.

The protesters, or Water Protectors as they prefer to be known, are being represented by Clan Chieftain, David Archambault:

“Although the news is saddening, it is not at all surprising given the last 500 years of the treatment of our people. We have suffered much, but we still have hope that the President will act on his commitment to close the chapter of broken promises to our people and especially our children.”

The ability to hold on and create gardens out of rock is work indigenous communities have done for a very long time.

Of equal concern is the resurgence of guerrilla tactics used against peaceful and non-violent protestors. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department conjured the specter of 1960s racism as they blasted a crowd of 400 with a fire hose in freezing temperatures, shortly before the deployment of “non-lethal” concussion grenades and tear gas.

While the smooching of oil tycoons and government delegates is by no means a new phenomenon, Standing Rock demonstrates our inability to freely exercise our democratic right and protest major conglomerates and corporations; who, like it or not, are emerging as the real wielders of power in global affairs.

Whether it is the Black Lives Matter campaign or the Indian Sioux Tribe,this vicious suppression of democratic protesting contributes yet another page to America’s false narrative of social progress. With Donald Trump in the White House, these stand-offs are only likely to become more frequent.

We don’t need America or Britain to be “great” again, which is really just nostalgia for the lost epoch of Empire.

We need them to defend the rights of our peoples and animals that are on the verge of extinction rather than treating their communities as sacrificial zones for shortsighted American corporate interest. 

We need them to prove that the idea of State Protection doesn’t just apply to that which benefits the state: abortion, drug prohibition, rehabilitation.

And we as a global audience need to stop buying into media mythmaking about campaigns that only seek to improve the lives of communities that have always had to pay the price for American “prosperity”. This ludicrous narrative of white victimhood has enabled the transition of the far right from its shadowy spot on the margins, into the political center stage.

Despite popular belief and government action, we have much to learn from the Indian Sioux’s immensely successful way of life. As the West tiptoes towards chaos, we would do well to observe the Native Indian founding beliefs of balance and sharing, forces that create the harmony our world relies on.

~

For practical information on how you can help, click the link below.

10 Ways You Can Help The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Fight The Dakota Access Pipeline

Solastalgia

I want you to listen carefully to this extraordinary story for it is yours as well as mine. Just 15 minutes of your time, after which you may decide what you want to do with this information.

I wish to speak to you about solastalgia; a word barely a decade old but that has infected communities around the globe. Its reach is pervasive and undiscriminating.

It is felt by the indigenous Awá tribe of the Amazon who stand solemnly as their rainforest is ripped apart and thinned as though plagued by a virulent case of Alopecia.

Solastalgia lingers upon the cracked banks of Lake Poopò, once the second largest lake in Bolivia, now a stinking puddle. The residents who manned these shores for centuries have fled their home along with 75 different species of birds. Only the elderly remain.

Solastalgia is a term invented by Glenn Albrecht, an Australian philosopher and environmentalist, and it describes the kind of homesickness that emerges from staying put. It speaks of powerlessness and involuntary farewells, the whispered goodbye to a familiar place, landscape or home as it is rendered unrecognisable by climate change or corporate action. Solastalgia cannot be undone or abated like its brethren nostalgia, as what was lost would take centuries to return. It is the creeping sense of distress we feel when we realise that the world has reached its nadir and yet no one is doing anything to stop it. Solastalgia is part of the emerging lexis that gives a name to the environmental changes occurring in plain sight around us.

Its reach is pervasive and undiscriminating. It is felt by the indigenous Awá tribe of the Amazon who stand solemnly as their rainforest is ripped apart and thinned as though plagued by a virulent case of Alopecia. Solastalgia lingers upon the cracked banks of Lake Poopò, once the second largest lake in Bolivia, now a stinking puddle. The residents who manned these shores for centuries have fled their home along with 75 different species of birds. Only the elderly remain. Solastalgia is a term invented by Glenn Albrecht, an Australian philosopher and environmentalist, and it describes the kind of homesickness that emerges from staying put. It speaks of powerlessness and involuntary farewells, the whispered goodbye to a familiar place, landscape or home as it is rendered unrecognisable by climate change or corporate action. Solastalgia cannot be undone or abated like its brethren nostalgia, as what was lost would take centuries to return. It is the creeping sense of distress we feel when we realise that the world has reached its nadir and yet no one is doing anything to stop it. Solastalgia is part of the emerging lexis that gives a name to the environmental changes occurring in plain sight around us.

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Picture taken from Photographic Book: “Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot”. Author/Editor: Tom Butler

Less than 24 hours into her tenure at Number 10 news broke that Theresa May, Britain’s second female Prime Minister, has dissolved the Department of Energy and Climate Change in a tirade of sweeping reform.

This suicidal omission of climate change from the political agenda occurs one week after the publication of a report from the Independent Committee on Climate Change ascertaining that Britain was “poorly prepared” for the inevitable impacts of global warming in the coming decades.[1] This builds upon the 2015 national security strategy which ranked climate change as a firm equal to international terrorism in the threat it poses to the UK. Oxford Street remains one of the most polluted streets in the world, breaching EU limits for nitrogen dioxide emissions for the entire year in a mere 7 days. The effects of this invisible killer are manifold; 9,000 premature deaths per year in the capital alone are attributed to air pollution while its festering particles attack our skin ageing us 10% faster than those living in the countryside.[2]

“My explanation of the CCC report is not enough. The words are not big or frightening enough to contain the enormity of our climate cataclysm. Look around you. Look at this absurdly perfect, balanced environment. Start taking pictures of it. 1 in 10 species will be extinct by 2050.

The report painted an apocalyptic picture of the next 20-30 years if fossil fuel emissions are not drastically curtailed. London, a sizzling 48° degrees in August luring in a cohort of Zika-bearing mosquitos and dengue fever; the winter months spent fighting the ravages of vicious flooding expected to affect one million homes each year. NASA part funds a report warning that systemic collapse is ‘difficult to avoid’.[3] Food supply chains interrupted, soil erosion and contamination rendering harvest impossible and a swath of climate related war and migration as we battle it out for the last scraps of habitable land. The message is simple: keep this up and it’s a hot, flooded, dead Earth.

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Dead coral reefs of Lizard Island, Australia, as a result of rising sea temperatures. Photograph Copyright: The Ocean Agency.

So why is it that the fate of our home is consistently downgraded from the political agenda?

Besides the obvious spoils of environmental exploitation, climate scepticism goes hand in hand with the tilt towards far right politics that currently plagues much of Europe. But as Brian Cox astutely pointed out in his article in The Guardian, suspicion of experts and denying the truth about the world around us is the way back to the cave.

Warnings of climate change go unheeded not because there is not enough data or research, but because they fall like feathers upon our profit obsessed and hardened governments. My explanation of the CCC report is not enough. The words are not big or frightening enough to contain the enormity of our climate cataclysm.

Look around you. Look at this absurdly perfect, balanced environment. Start taking pictures of it. 1 in 10 species will be extinct by 2050.[4]

For many people it is easier to imagine the demise of our planet than an overhaul of our political economy and yet our Earth is the only thing that transcends the barriers of culture, class, nationhood that we have so assiduously constructed.

And so it falls to us, the people, you and me. It falls to us even though 10% of all waste is contributed by households. It falls to us because “the world is not inherited from our ancestors but borrowed from our children”. 

Climate change asks hard questions of us all.

It asks us to think temporally in deep time, Earth time, the paths that run parallel and ahead of our own lifespans. It asks us to pull our heads out of the sand and look brutally at the impact we have made upon this planet. It asks even harder questions of scientists. Do we plough ahead with assisted migration to try and save the creatures we have left? Or will our involvement in their battle for survival create hybrid animals that pose threats to existing ecological systems?

Climate debates are not aided by the fact that we have to push and scream to even gain a foothold on the agenda about changing the world. Promising noises were made at the Paris Climate Convention in December last year during which 195 countries agreed to adopt a universal action plan limiting global warming to 2°C. But a mere 6 months later, Obama’s attempts to implement the necessary reforms have been stymied by the infantile politics of the Republican party who continue to deny climate change as a national concern. Theresa May has closed the department responsible for meeting carbon targets absorbing it into the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Action where climate policies will have to fight to be heard above economic proposals for the flagging post-Brexit economy.

Bangladesh
Picture taken from Photographic Book: “Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot”. Author/Editor: Tom Butler

And so it falls to us, the people, you and me. It falls to us even though 10% of all waste is contributed by households. It falls to us because “the world is not inherited from our ancestors but borrowed from our children”[5].

At first look the task seems enormous, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of environmentally propped up capitalism. But we have to learn to hope with teeth.

Take comfort in the successes we have made so far. Look to campaigns such as Blackfish and realise our own potential to effect change on global organisations when it is packaged just right. Sign petitions and protest with Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Rainforest UK. Stop buying toothpaste with micro-beads that leaving the ocean clinking and wheezing like an antique armchair. Reduce your meat consumption. Support Sadiq Khan’s campaign to clean up the air in London’s cities. Plant trees. Support the switch over to renewable energy and glory in the revolutionary technologies that have been created that might just be enough to tide us through this epoch of geological adaption; Scott and Julie Brusaw’s revolutionary solar panels roads for one are worth checking out.  The Earth has a remarkable capacity to heal itself if we just let it breathe. And above all, do not be passive, lend your voice wherever you can because if the politicians defending the EU referendum result have taught us anything, it is that we as a democracy will be listened to if we shout loud enough.

“There is hope. But for it to be real, and barbed, and tempered into a weapon, we cannot just default to it.” – China Miéville, Limits of Utopia

 

[1] 2017 Committee for Climate Change Report. Available at: https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/uk-climate-change-risk-assessment-2017/

[2] Study conducted by Chinese Dermatologist Association and Olay Skincare.

[3] Review of the NASA Study: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/mar/14/nasa-civilisation-irreversible-collapse-study-scientists

[4] Extinction Risk from Climate Change, (2004) C.D Thomas.
Available at: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v427/n6970/abs/nature02121.html

[5] Quote taken from: Wendell Berry The Unforeseen Wilderness (1971).