Anthropocene: Climate Change, Contagion, Consolation, by Sudeep Sen

Poems Reviewed by Peter Cowlam

The term ‘Anthropocene’ has been proposed as the definition of the geological epoch dating from the start of significant human impact on the earth, and on its ecosystems. Anthropocene is also the title of Sudeep Sen’s latest (multi-genre) book of poetry, prose and photography – published in the UK in a handsome hardback edition from Pippa Rann Books. I have a feeling this won’t be the last poetic (and literary) outcry against the ravages we inflict on our planet, with the cost not only to ourselves.

While a reversal of human rapacity is the clarion call of our era, growing louder by the day, it’s far from clear that timely correctives will be put in place sufficient to avert ultimate catastrophe. Despite the overwhelming evidence that climate change is a reality, and that dangerous levels of CO2 and methane are rising in our atmosphere, there is vested interest, there are powerful lobbies – of governments and corporations – doggedly resistant to climate treaties and any meaningful change in consumer habits. Meanwhile the globe is subject to weather extremes, coral reefs suffer bleaching, seas and rivers fill with plastic, micro-plastics enter the food chain, over-trafficked towns and cities are obliged to impose congestion and emission charges. Plastic pollution has even been detected in human placenta.

That’s the grand narrative. But what of the personal? Anthropocene is divided into nine parts, and roughly these comprise, pessimistically, a survey of the background realities of the globe as it is today, an apocalyptic vision of the world as it degenerates, the impact of the pandemic in collective and individual terms, then, as an optimistic contrast, there are skyscape photographs taken from the author’s terrace in Delhi, there is a celebration of persons, places and geological phenomena, there are the consolations of light, friendship and human togetherness, in balance with strictures imposed by nations in lockdown, with a strategy for survival of those restrictions with our mental health intact. Finally there is an epilogue.

In Part 1, the prologue, the poet is fulsome in his prose description of what he terms the ‘choreograph [of] the seasonal orchestra’, the first of many alliances of his poetic method with music (somewhere later in the book we infer music as his restorative). Frida Kahlo heads up this section, with an epigraph: ‘I paint flowers so they will not die.’ But death is the stark reality, with a reported news feature from ‘the President of the island nation of Kiribati […] informing the rest of the world that [with rising sea levels] the first country to be submerged would be theirs – and that their people would be the first “climate refugees”.’ More of the politics is touched on, with the world and its elites taking not enough notice of what is actual – the planet’s ecological crisis, with it the resurgence of fascism, the pandemic, and resulting from it the misery of enforced migration, desperate peoples dispossessed in their droves. Where once the artist celebrated nature in its colour and diversity, now there is hard descent into warnings against its destruction. The weather has certainly changed.

Part 2 begins with a plaint against human folly in its rapacity, ‘where everything is ambition, / everything is desire, everything is nothing’ (the poem ‘Disembodied’, p28). We are confronted with variants of the apocalyptic: ‘…over-heated air sucks out everything’; ‘Rain where there never was, / no rain where there [once] was.’; ‘Climate patterns [in] total disarray’; ‘…man-made havoc.’; ‘Earthquakes – overground, underground, / undersea’; ‘destruction, death’; ‘cyclone, flood, / pestilence, pollution.’; ‘Stillness, ever still – all still-born’ (‘Global Warming’, p30), and in ‘Rising Sea Levels’ (p31) there is a granite outcrop that once jutted out of the ‘ebullient’ sea, fifty metres from the shore, but is seen no more. ‘Asphyxia’, the poem on page 37, tips its hat to Eliot, in an unreal city, with a yellow fog, and yellow smoke, and urges ‘Sweet Yamuna’ (not the Thames, but a river in northern India) to run softly, till the poet of our day has ended not his song but his dirge. On page 38, in ‘Summer Heat’, macadam melts into a viscous black sea, a neem tree is bleached of its natural colour, power lines are down, in all there is limitless barrenness, while on page 39, in ‘Amaltas’, ‘sparking laburnums / […] ignite, incinerate’ under a searing 48°C. Some vision, where the city is reduced in appearance to that of a ‘glass mirage’ (‘Heat Sand’, p40), and where the science fraternity is telling us of ‘new highs’, where ‘meteorological indices shatter’ (‘Afternoon Meltdown’, p41), ‘unfinished flyovers // collapse’ (‘Concrete Graves’, p43). The contrast to excessive heat is given us in ‘Endless Rain’ (page 44), but the rain is followed by drought, then by an unstoppable monsoon (‘Shower, Wake’, p47). Examples of what ails human agency in all this is summed in bronchial disorders (the physical) and the tragedy of accentuated social division (the psychological).

Part 3, ‘Pandemic’, bears the subtitle ‘Love in the Time of Corona’, an enforced disposition Marquez (who is surely invoked) would have immediately understood. Page 54 reproduces the front page of The New York Times (a) as a mortician’s black slab (or so it seemed to this reader) and (b) a roll of the dead, names listed when the US death rate as a result of the virus was touching 100,000, responded to in ‘Obituary’ (page 55) as a conflation of ‘micro point-size fonts / on an ever inflating pandemic’. In ‘Obituary 2: Nine Pins’ (page 61) the poet names those personally he has lost to the pandemic, and amid a fourteen-haiku sequence (‘Corona Haiku’, pp62–64) the question is asked ‘will we find a more / compassionate world, after / this pandemic’s death?’ One suspects that with our current crop of leaders, and the multinationals that have got them in their pocket, we cannot bank on it. As to our mental health, ‘lockdown’s uneasy / solitude – turning into / another disease’ (page 64) does not give us hope of instant remedies, once the viral threat has passed, despite some few emollients (see Part 4, ‘Contagion’).

Part 4, ‘Contagion’. Can they salve the pain, a ‘eucalyptus steam inhalation, Ventolin sprays’, a ‘mixed concoction of ginger’, ‘black pepper, turmeric and organic honey’ (‘Implosion’, p79)? Or with these is there only ‘temporary respite’ (ibid)? Can machine technology ease the stress, with a charge of air from an electric vent? ‘I like this hellishly good blast that shakes all the embedded molecules in my bones’ (‘Icicles’, p81). ‘Fever Pitch’ (page 82), which in its epigraph recalls Thom Gunn and his man with night sweats, has its variation on that theme in an age of climate change and contagion: ‘The unknown boiling and freezing points that I hide within myself provide the ultimate enigma that even the most specialized doctors and architects find hard to map.’ Here more than ever throughout these poems we see what in the poet’s mind exists as the opposition, seldom a dialogue, between art and science. In their conflicting strategies in defining the human malaise ‘there is no room for unscientific thought’, or more fully, from ‘Heavy Water’, pp87-89)—

Families of electrons, protons and neutrons speed away, whirring in patterned loops, forgetting all the while that the heart of their orbit may actually feel and breathe. But in science, there is no room for unscientific thought – as if science and the arts, coolness and emotionality were mutually incompatible or different from each other.

In a pandemic the truth of our mortality is brought closer into consciousness (‘Preparing For a Perfect Death’, p91)—

Get your papers in order choose / your inheritors fairly – with love, care. // Outline clearly – who gets what, / what they are required to execute.

And in ‘Icarus’ (pp92–93) there might even be a death wish: ‘The image of Icarus has been flying around / in my head. I cannot get rid of it….’ ‘I pray for Icarus to return to take me / away….’ But here among us earth-dwellers who have not crashed from the sky there are still life’s attractions. Instance Dinesh Khanna’s photograph on page 96, precursor to a meal (feasting, a social event), of chopped red onions, chopped red peppers and a clove of garlic on a chopping board with knives, despite the poet’s irresistible urge to make a crucifix out of the latter. ‘Corona Red’ (page 97) is the poem that accompanies (‘…is this a new metaphor of our / times?’). And after the metaphor, what are the other symptoms of our troubled era? The testing of friendships in enforced social distancing (‘Scar’, p99)? The alarming rate at which both fake news and the coronavirus replicate (‘Ghalib in the Time of Crisis’, pp100–101)? They are certainly among the leading contenders.

Sudeep Sen

Part 5, subtitled ‘Skyscapes’, sees text give way to a series of photos the poet took from his terrace in Delhi, with his focus on a single subject (an horizon washed with trees, low-rise flat-roofed buildings and their attachments), under a big sky and subject to differing lighting conditions, ranging from evening twilight to cloudy to inky to fiery sunsets.

Part 6, ‘Holocene’, scientifically the interval of geologic time, approximately the last 11,700 years of Earth’s history, wherein the influence of human activity has been so profound it is deemed appropriate to ascribe its own name (cp ‘Anthropocene’). Poems in this section include a celebration of persons, places, and the terrible majesty of geological phenomena: ‘Four centuries ago, Akrotiri’s ancient site fell / grandly to volcanic death, victim of several quakes’ (‘Akrotiri’, p121). There is a homage to Derek Walcott. English hours take in a visit to Herefordshire, and with it the concretion of passing moments, with ‘…the kind of clock I want to measure time by – / time that depends / on the company of those who care – / time minutely layered / on this open windblown Herefordshire terrain…’ (‘Witherstone’, pp122–125). Another sequence of haiku (‘Undercurrents: 20 Lake Haiku’, pages 126–128) offers similar lyricism: ‘geese squeak, cormorants / dive, fish summersault…’ We are in Marseilles when, philosophically, the question is asked ‘Have these voyagers left something behind, / or are they yearning / to complete the incompleteness / in their lives?’ (‘Disembodied 2: Les Voyageurs’, p129). The section ends with ‘Disembodied 3: Within’ (page 130), and further philosophical probing: ‘…life, birth, death – / regermination, rejuvenation, nirvana.’

Part 7, ‘Consolation’, cinematically introduced by Stanley Kubrick: ‘However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.’ In life there is hope, and in death there are hopes for an afterlife (‘Burning Ghats, Varanasi’, (pages 136–137)—

In the super-heated pyre, I hear another ritual pot break,

                     another skull crack, another soul take flight.

I see some shore-temples slow-sink

                                                         into the swallowing river –

effects of unpredictable tides and climate change

         taking with them, both the mortal and the immortal –

Holocene’s carbon-footprint – its death text, unceasing.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust –

                                 water to heavy water, life to after-life.’

And from ‘Ganga, Rising’ (page 138)—

Here, there is no space for perfectly rounded pebbles or gentle musings – only large granite

outcrops can shackle the soul’s ferocity – a jagged fierceness – not harsh, yet quietly robust.

And from ‘Shiuli | Harasingara’ (page 140)—

Soon the festivities, food,

     flowers, camaraderie,

prayer, will infuse everything –

We are reminded in ‘Breastfeeding’ (page 150) of the social world and how that does not necessarily comply with the strictures of science, in that love is an imperfect equation, and similarly in ‘Air: Pankhā Pattachitra’ (page 151) are reminded of ‘the spare simplicity / of pure clean air.’ Not everything is lost.

Part 8, ‘Lockdown’. The writer has a natural, inborn, and after years of toil a disciplined strategy for dealing with the solitude and lack of social contact national lockdowns have imposed on the masses. It’s to be found in recourse to writing and reading, and has a distinct advantage over exploit and action in the world, its locus described in full in ‘Poetics of Solitude, Songs of Silence’ (pp162–165). But there are other pastimes more easily called upon: ‘words of grief; words of love, hate, wisdom. / Paper crafts its papyrus origins // journeying from tree to table / through clefts, wefts, contours, textures…’ (‘Paper T[r]ails’, p157). And what were the things we did in early childhood?

Part 9, ‘Epilogue’, is in the nature of a linked list, with prayer and meditation, closing with a chant and a cerement, and a rite of passage for the dying, where ‘breathing is a privilege’, ‘friends perish, the country buckles, airless’, sentiments which might seem pessimistic as a conclusion. However, one has only to remember how inexcusably reluctant governments, corporations, and we as individuals have been in meeting the challenge our post-industrial way of life has thrown at us, when at the same time there remains a volume of powerful voices denying human complicity in our current climate disaster, with the Holocene an inter-glacial period where warming is said to happen anyway, regardless of us. But even if that is so, the amount of CO2 and methane we are pumping into the atmosphere is measurable, and has reached proportions we know are not good for us, for other species, and for the planet in general. And for as long as that is the case, there is need for the poems of Anthropocene, and for their author, Sudeep Sen, who with his wide fanbase, and this latest offering, will not disappoint its members.

En passant Noted, throughout Anthropocene, is the author’s fondness for skeletal imagery, frequent reference to bronchial irritations, and the condition asthmatics endure in the drawing of breath. Noted too are life’s dramas in comparison with the operatic, ‘striation’ and its cognates a favourite word, and, unsurprisingly given the book’s subject matter, repeated reference to meteorological phenomena, weather events, cloud shapes, cloud formations, cloud breaks, layered skies, and as metaphysical embodiment errant clouds yearning for rain.

Sudeep Sen’s prize-winning books include: Postmarked India: New & Selected Poems (HarperCollins), Rain, Aria (A. K. Ramanujan Translation Award), Fractals: New & Selected Poems | Translations 19802015 (London Magazine Editions), EroText (Vintage: Penguin Random House), Kaifi Azmi: Poems | Nazms (Bloomsbury) and Anthropocene: Climate Change, Contagion, Consolation (Pippa Rann). He has edited influential anthologies, including: The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry, World English Poetry, Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians (Sahitya Akademi), and Converse: Contemporary English Poetry by Indians (Pippa Rann).  Blue Nude: Ekphrasis & New Poems (Jorge Zalamea International Poetry Prize) and The Whispering Anklets are forthcoming. Sen’s works have been translated into over twenty-five languages. His words have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Newsweek, Guardian, Observer, Independent, Telegraph, Financial Times, Herald, Poetry Review, Literary Review, Harvard Review, Hindu, Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, Outlook, India Today, and broadcast on the BBC, PBS, CNN IBN, NDTV, AIR & Doordarshan. Sen’s newer work appears in New Writing 15 (Granta), Language for a New Century (Norton), Leela: An Erotic Play of Verse and Art (Collins), Indian Love Poems (Knopf / Random House / Everyman), Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe), Initiate: Oxford New Writing (Blackwell), and Name me a Word (Yale). He is the editorial director of AARK ARTS, editor of Atlas, and currently the inaugural artist-in-residence at the Museo Camera. Sen is the first Asian honoured to deliver the Derek Walcott Lecture and read at the Nobel Laureate Festival. The Government of India awarded him the senior fellowship for “outstanding persons in the field of culture / literature”.

“We’s Who’s the Earth is For”: Storm Visions

by Ciarán O’Rourke

A decade ago I began to form a habit that in the intervening years has evolved into a strange passion: going to the cinema, and watching movies, alone. Two films in particular, from those early days, seemed so urgent and exhilarating, so attuned to what was then (and is still) being talked about as the greatest threat to civilization, climate change, but at a human level, that I lay a good deal of the responsibility for my cinematical hermeticism at their feet. I saw Take Shelter and Beasts of the Southern Wild in short succession, and they both taught me something about how to see, and read, and think about environmental devastation as a collective experience, from the confines of my own small life. Each picture still filters my understanding of the many dooms that are already taking shape about us, and are promised to intensify in the time ahead.

Take Shelter (2011) begins with an apocalypse that only Curtis (Michael Shannon) can see, which nevertheless threatens to envelop everything he knows. Staring at trees shaking and shimmering in the wind, Curtis watches, as in the backdrop an immense storm cloud gathers, and oleaginous rain begins to splatter his shirt and head. The film proceeds as a close-focused portrait of a loner in crisis, as Curtis risks his job, family, financial stability, and standing in his community to build an underground bunker for his loved ones, in anticipation of an ecological and social disaster that nobody else understands, or wants to.

Jeff Nichols’s film stands (as the title suggests) as an admonitory projection of an atomised America drowning in a storm of oil, a storm that only one incorrigibly reticent man, whose sanity is questioned throughout, can discern. Take Shelter was released three years before the Flint water crisis laid bare the reality of the USA’s poisoned waters, and the social regimes ensuring that some people would suffer the effects of failed public infrastructure more than others. Likewise in 2005, six years prior to Nichols’s picture, the people of New Orleans had been left to fend for themselves by the federal government in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and then criminalised for surviving. Nichols’s cinematic parable is alert to the reality of these murder traps, and still perturbs, mixing fantastical foreboding with the sharp, persistent tang of realism.

Watching the movie now, it’s difficult to imagine any other actor than Shannon for the part of Curtis. Shannon, in his late thirties in the film, has the truculent, creviced features and uneasy, watchful gaze of an ageing veteran from a forgotten war. He conveys both seething anxiety and blank-eyed stolidity, and seems always to have wandered onto the screen from some Great Nowhere, that lost hinterland where America’s ghosts have been left to die. Curtis wakes from nightmares screaming, or asphyxiated in terrified paralysis. When lightning crashes in a far-off field, he flinches, and lurches instinctively to draw his young daughter (who is deaf) into the house. The lines between sight and vision, climactic crisis and personal breakdown, grow blurry, as Curtis mutters in disbelief and trepidation: “Is anyone seeing this?”

In some respects, Shannon is comparable to Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath, the “only actor” of the 1930s with whom the writer James Baldwin “identified” as a youth, just “by the way [he] walked down the road at the end of the film”. For Baldwin, Fonda’s on-screen presence was such that his whiteness was almost erased, composed not of savage entitlement but of empathic anger and downtrodden longing: he epitomised in his person those dispossessions endured by predominantly black and brown communities in the actual nation that Baldwin knew while growing up. The foreboding that we see encoded into Shannon’s permanently pained expression is, in part, the face of white America turned back upon itself; he is a witness to catastrophe that none of his neighbours recognises, and against which there is no protection.

Nichols’s picture is set in America’s backlands, near Elyria, Ohio, where Walmart remains one of the city’s top five employers, and (in the movie) Curtis and his friend Dewart (Shea Whigam) work in a gravel pit. Left deflated and unappeased by liberal America, within half a decade of the film’s making, places like this would embrace the demagogic populism of Donald Trump, as he began his march to the White House. The dread Curtis feels in nightmares, as friends and neighbours are driven to acts of visceral violence and desperation, accurately foreshadows the rancour and resentment stoked by Trump in reality.

In the micro-drama of Curtis’s escalating distress, which may be madness, we also glimpse the macro-epic of climate catastrophe, baring its fangs. “It rained for two hours yesterday,” his boss snaps in exasperation. “Two hours, and our entire [drilling] schedule went into the toilet.” Industrial productivity, not to mention human survival, becomes considerably more difficult and dangerous when the natural systems it depends on move with a gargantuan rhythm and momentum of their own. Take Shelter registers the pulse of a maelstrom that later films like Parasite dramatise in full-blown action.

Bird-murmurations swarm the skies, then vanish at a glance. When Curtis expresses his disquiet during a medical appointment, his doctor swivels his chair away from him, asking, “You been out to see your mother,” living in psychiatric care, “lately?” For Curtis, to question the seeming complacency of his peers is to be consigned to outsider status, exiled. When he does visit his mother (Kathy Baker), he wonders quietly if she can remember what happened before she was “diagnosed”. “It was a real stressful time,” she says in a soft voice. “Your father was gone a lot…there was always a panic that took hold of me.”

Nichols’s visual grammar is often so beguiling because of his parallel capacity to enter the inner (and intimate) life of his characters. Much of the power of Take Shelter lies in its recognition that many of its central characters can’t: the precarity and many burdens of their days are such that the very idea of safety, sustainable comfort, enduring happiness is constantly endangered. “You got a good life,” says Dewart (Shea Whigam) to his friend and workmate. “Well, it ain’t always so easy,” Curtis replies, looking away.

This is a drama in which basic medical procedures and prescriptions are frequently out of financial reach; where people are expected to suffer, or (somehow) pay. Curtis’s wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), sells hand-sewn curtains and quilts at the local car-boot sale for extra cash. When Curtis gets “a home-improvement loan” from the bank to build the tornado shelter in his back garden, he jeopardizes his ability to cover the expense of Hannah’s hearing implants. “How could you do that without talking to me,” Samantha almost pleads: “Tell me something that helps me understand why you’re being like this.” He breathes heavily: “There’s nothing to explain.”

Communication and mutual understanding, their necessity and frustration, are organising motifs in this strangely symphonic drama of private calamity and collective crisis. We watch transfixed as Chastain’s Samantha, whose searching intelligence makes even silence eloquent, teaches Hannah “a new sign” word, and the windows of the house grow grey: “S-T-O-R-M.” When Curtis eventually tells his wife about the “dreams, I guess they’re more like nightmares”, he evokes “this dark, thick rain, like fresh motor-oil”. Such terse, weighted lines could be taken from a play by Sam Shepard (an actor-writer who adds to the grounded gravitas of Nichols’s 2012 feature, Mud). “It’s not just a dream,” Curtis says. “It’s a feeling. I’m afraid something might be coming. Something that’s not right. I cannot describe it. I just need you to believe me.” The times are out of joint.

The question of belief, of human faith-in-one-another, is resolved only ambiguously in this film, which brings us face to face with a premonition of extinction that is at once powerful and difficult to absorb in full. Curtis’s slow diffidence and physical unease nevertheless convey what we (and he) cannot quite define in verbal terms.

In Field of Dreams (1989), despite accusations from all sides of insanity, financial and medical, the character Ray (Kevin Costner) knows that “if he builds” a baseball field on his land, “people will come”:

They’ll arrive at your door, as innocent as children, longing for the past…. Then they’ll walk off to the bleachers, sit in their shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon…and they’ll watch the [baseball] game, and it will be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters.

Curtis’s nightmares repeat the same parable, but in altered form. If he builds his storm shelter, his vision will be true and his fears vindicated: the apocalypse he’s felt brewing for so long will strike.

In a vivid distillation of Curtis’s anguish, after fighting with Dewart in the mess hall, frothing at the mouth he yells: “There is a storm coming. Like nothing you’ve ever seen. And not one of you is prepared for it.” None of his friends and neighbours can look him in the eye. “Sleep well in your beds,” he screams, “because if this comes true there ain’t gonna be any more.” Then, turning to Samantha and Hannah, his eyes clearing as he looks into their faces, he crumples into tears, in agony and shame.

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, – that is genius,” Emerson once wrote, urging that each “man” should “carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he”. Curtis’s actions exemplify the stubborn wildness of such a credo, while exposing the preposterous insulation of its originator. Curtis’s need to trust his convictions “in the presence of all opposition”, his will to act on the recurring, fearful visions he sees, cost him nearly all he has. Emerson’s sermon at the pulpit exacted no such toll on the eminent philosopher.

In similarly immersive fashion, Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) dramatises the experience, at an almost bodily level, of fragility in the midst of social and climactic collapse. Set on a small Louisiana island, in a forgotten town called the Bathtub, the film is narrated and led by Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), who lives in a decrepit portacabin, suspended by trees, with her father Wink (Dwight Henry). Their home is alive with rust, and roots; lit by weather and lived in by birds and (sometimes the strangest of) beasts.

The first words we hear in the film, in voice-over, are faltering, precise, and powerfully expressive of the world Hushpuppy knows and the binding laws she intuits to be true there: “All the time, everywhere, everything’s hearts are beatin’ and squirtin’, and talkin’ to each other the ways I can’t understand.” Hushpuppy’s statement of incomprehension is deep and real with wisdom, partly because (like Curtis) she understands more, perhaps, than she can allow herself to say out loud.

We see Hushpuppy holding a chick in her small hands firmly, and yet with total gentleness. Patrolling a nearby junkyard in her faded yellow wellington boots, she lays her arm across a recumbent hog, sleeping in the mud, and listens for its heartbeat, a gesture she repeats throughout the film, motivated by the nameless but palpable sickness that is increasingly depleting Wink of energy and aggravating his mood.

“I hope you die,” she shouts at Wink, after he has struck her in anger and panic. She punches his chest, and we see, on his face, a flicker of remorse and grief. He will die (soon), and he recognises that at some instinctive level Hushpuppy already knows it. When Wink collapses, in seizure, a rumble of thunder sounding in the skies, Hushpuppy quivers in open-eyed distress at this great apocalypse descending on her father, and overtaking their life together, which is grubby, precarious, and full.

Hushpuppy and Wink fish in a scrap-metal boat that floats on the mud-brown river, which, as in one of Mark Twain’s quintessential (and insightful) yarns, is always “raising”. After floods, the water becomes choked, in large measure due to a forbidding levee, which separates Hushpuppy and her people from the smoke-spewing industrial landscape beyond, where the American State reigns supreme. “Ain’t that ugly over there,” Wink says, nodding in the direction of the factory towers. “We got the prettiest place on earth.” In moments like this, Benh Zeitlin’s film (his first) has truth and grit in equal measure, which may account for its overall vitality, its magnificent flavour.

“They built the wall that cut us off,” Hushpuppy proclaims, with a kind of triumph. “They think we all gonna drown down here, but we ain’t goin nowhere…. The Bathtub has more holidays than the rest of the world!” In the form of the Bathtub, the commons has survived, and we see its openness and revelry, the plenteous river, and the companionship that thrives in and around it, up-close. This is a place where people share their resources, knowledge, and company, together in nature.

“Everything is part of the buffet of the universe,” smiles the kindly Miss Bathsheba (Gina Montana), who tells the local huddle of listening children before her of the fierce, ravenous aurochs, now extinct, which once roamed the earth. As Wink’s illness takes hold of his body, violent storms rocking and wracking their home, Hushpuppy is haunted by these creatures, looming and immense: they shadow her world. “I’m recording my story for the scientists of the future,” she says, without irony, fear or self-pity.

This is also, however, a community attuned to its own destruction. “Ice-caps gonna melt, water’s gonna rise,” Miss Bethsheba says, so “y’all better learn to survive now,” an instruction Hushpuppy internalises, and converts to poetry, a boat-speak vernacular:

One day, the storm’s gonna blow, the ground’s gonna sink, and the water’s gonna rise up so high, there ain’t gonna be no Bathtub, just a whole bunch of water…. But me and my daddy, we stay right here. We’s who’s the earth is for.

The radicalism of Hushpuppy’s world-view is ultimately less impressive than her resounding trust in it. Her intent, soft, observing eyes, her mellow, thoughtful words, find truth wherever they rest. “We’s who’s the earth is for.”

Take Shelter evokes the terror of a grown man both lost and anchored in a world overshadowed by lethal catastrophes; Beasts of the Southern Wild re-creates the lush and often urgent textures of childhood, a time of true magic and deep yearning, in this case imperilled by those hungry predators, natural death, social and environmental devastation, and a coercive State. When Wink commits an act of sabotage on the dam in an attempt to clear the area of the now-stagnant waters, police and rescue teams arrive to implement an “emergency evacuation”, forcibly transferring the Bathtub community into homeless services. “It didn’t look like a prison,” Hushpuppy remarks of the crowded medical centre where Wink is transferred. “It looked like a fishbowl with no water.” If it is stirringly humane and fluently constructed, the film remains alive (in A. S. Hamrah’s words) to “an America that is divorced from social services and beset by environmental collapse”.

The movie holds in balance an unflinching recognition of precarious lives faced down by (sometimes lethal) inevitabilities, and a child’s experience of community and fellowship – with nature and her people. Everything Hushpuppy loves comes close to vanishing, or actually drowns, as the monsters that stalk her life knock down the walls, covering her world with swampy water.

Without shirking its responsibility to these sureties and circumstances, the final act dares to imagine some of the ways in which lost children may find warmth and protection: in the arms of outcasts, or in the companionship of one another. Hushpuppy can walk back to the “raising” river and call it home. As we look into a future of certain loss and potential planetary ruin, the tenderness and fierce courage of this film quickens the heart.

Further Reading

James Baldwin, The Devil Finds Work (1976).

A. S. Hamrah, The Earth Dies Streaming: Film Writing 2002–2018 (2019).

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance” (1841).

Ciarán O’Rourke is a poet, based in Galway, Ireland. His first collection, The Buried Breath, was issued by Irish Pages Press in 2018 and highly commended by the Forward Foundation the following year. His miscellany of essays, One Big Union, was published in 2021, and his second poetry collection is forthcoming. More information about his work can be found here.

Of The Earth

By Thomas Gilbert

Life’s fortunes take us down a trail
Through fog and wind and rain and hail
But sometimes sun and warmth and peace
come by to help us find release.

Tobogganing, by Thomas and Emma Gilbert

Jamie, do you want to go sledding at the toboggan run this afternoon? Her dad asks her.

 Oh, yes. I’d love to! Can Carli come, too?

 Of course, but first finish all of your lunch, so we can get ready. Jamie giggles with anticipation. Two of her front teeth, one top, one bottom, are missing, as new ones, barely visible, are coming in.

 Daddy, we got an assignment at school yesterday. I’m supposed to ask you about your job and tell everybody else at school on Monday.

 So, you want to interview me, eh?


 What would you like to know?

 Mommy, can I get the list that Mrs. Kelsey gave me from my book bag?

 Yes, dear. Jamie runs from the kitchen to the den and rummages through her backpack.

 She’s really excited about this. She was telling me about it on the way home from school yesterday.

 I can see that she is. Jamie re-enters the kitchen, carrying her book bag, paper, and a tape recorder.

 What have you got there?

 A tape recorder.

 Oh, I see, a real professional, eh?

 I need to remember what you say, so I can write down your answers.

 Great idea.

 Are you ready, Daddy? There’s a lot of questions.

 Let me put down my Saturday paper. Her father folds his arms across his chest, leans back in his chair, paper still in his hand, rolled up in a cylinder, and taps it against his knee, carelessly.

 Jamie sets her list down on the table, brushes the hair from in front of her face, and stares at her mom and then at her dad. She then reaches across to push the record button on the tape player, looks at her paper again, and then starts confidently:

Tell me where you work, please, and what do you do?

 O.K., I work at the Cleveland Salt Mine, just west of downtown Cleveland and beside Lake Erie. I’m a foreman and a manager of a team of 25 men and women gathering salt from the mines beneath Lake Erie.

 O.K. And how do you mine the salt?

 We use trucks and bulldozers and explosives, and we work about 2,000 feet below the surface of the ground.

Salt mining, painting by Thomas and Emma Gilbert


And what do you do with the salt when you bring it up out of the ground?

 We put it in huge piles on the ground, right outside of the mine shafts.

 Then what do you do with it?

 Big huge trucks from ODOT, that’s the Ohio Department of Transportation, County Cuyahoga, and various cities around Cleveland and the state, drive up to get their trucks filled. Then they take the salt to their cities where it’s stored for use in the wintertime. We even load salt onto train cars where it gets shipped to other parts of the country.

 Jaimie looked away from her list. Why do they do that?

 Well, in the wintertime, when it gets really cold and the roads get covered with snow and ice, trucks called salt trucks fill up with the salt that we mine at our company. Then they spread the salt onto the roads to help melt the snow and ice so people can drive more safely on the roads.

 How much salt do they use?

 In an average winter, here in Cleveland and around the county, they use somewhere between 60,000 and 70,000 tons of salt on the roads to fight the snow and ice.

 She put her head on her hands, with her elbows propped on the table. How much is a ton?

 A ton is 2,000 pounds.



 Then what happens to all the salt on the roads?

 Well, as long as the temperature stays pretty much above 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the salt melts the ice and snow, and it gets all over the cars and trucks and buses that run over it.

 It does? She looked at her mother.

 Yes, said her mother. In the wintertime right now, if you go out to our car port and look at our car, it’s all splattered with salt residue from the spray of salt water from the roads that were covered with salt to melt the snow.

 Oh, like on the windshield! When we drive behind cars and trucks and it gets all over the windshield, and we can’t see, and you have to press the sprayer on the wipers to get the window clean?

 Exactly, said her dad.

She turned to face her Dad, What is the stuff that cleans the windshield?

 It’s the blue washer fluid that we get at the gas station. We have to put it into a special container under the front hood of the car and make sure we have enough to last us when the weather gets bad, because we have to be able to see when we’re driving in order to be safe.

Can you drink that stuff?

No, absolutely not. It’s very poisonous.

Is the salt poisonous?

Well, it’s not exactly clean. The salt is basically sodium chloride, like table salt, but because of the other things mixed in with it when it comes out of the ground, it’s not really safe to eat. Sodium is a mineral and chloride is just chlorine, which is a pale green gas. So road salt is a combination of these elements. Some elements are good for you; others are not so good. Our bodies can use various minerals and salts in small amounts. Too much, or the wrong combinations, can be dangerous or even poisonous. The salt we get from under Lake Erie is basically sodium chloride — table salt, and too much of that in our systems can be really bad, just like too much salt can be really bad for fresh water fish, land animals, and plants and trees. We all need salt to survive, but too much salt is harmful.

Windshield, by Thomas and Emma Gilbert

 What happens to all the salt and washer fluid on the cars and buses and trucks?

 Well, the rain rinses it off, or we go to the car wash and wash it  off, or we wash our cars in our own driveways at home.

 But where does it all go?

 Oh, you mean down the drains, into the sewers?


 Well, some of it can leach right down into the ground beside the roads, or into the surface groundwater, and some of it goes into the water treatment plants, and some of it goes into the drainage ditches beside the roads and highways, and then into small streams and eventually drains into rivers and ponds and lakes.

 But I thought you once told me that the water we get out of the sink comes from Lake Erie?

 Yes, I did.

 But you said that too much salt is dangerous and the washer fluid is poisonous?

 Uh, huh.

 But if we’re not supposed to drink that blue stuff, and the salt should only be taken in small amounts, why do we put them in places where they will end up in the water we drink?

 That’s a good reason for getting bottled water at the store.

 But doesn’t that come from the lake, too?

 Oh, no. Big water bottling companies go to places where they can get water from mountain streams, springs, and artesian wells where there’s really fresh water, or they process water to purify it before they bottle it.

Does this fresh water come from Ohio?

I don’t know. Some companies get their water from sources in the Appalachian Mountains, some from the Rocky Mountains, and some get their water from overseas.


Some big companies get their water from places like Brazil, and France, and Indonesia, and even India.

Where is India?

On the other side of this planet.

Why would they do that?

Well, some big companies make a deal with governments to drill huge wells to tap into deep underground rivers and lakes, and other water sources that have very pure water. They have these huge plants that collect the water, and they bottle it right there, and then ship it back over here for us to drink.

They take water from India and bring it all the way back here?

Uh huh.

Don’t the people in India need their water?

Well, unfortunately, some of the deep wells that our companies drill to get fresh water often take away the surface water from the farmers who have cultivated the land around these plants for hundreds of years. In some cases, it is so severe that they are left with empty wells and have no water for their crops or their animals, and they don’t even have drinking water for their families.

What happens to their farm land?

Over time it dries out so completely, it ends up producing a landscape covered with nothing but mineral deposits and salt.

Then the farmers in India could do what you do, Daddy?

Yes, I suppose they could, Jamie. I suppose they could.

Are you ready for tobogganing?

Yes, I’m ready.

Jamie put her papers into her book bag and pushes the stop button on the tape recorder, and her Mom and Dad stare at each other in silence across the table.

Drawing by Thomas and Emma Gilbert

So tell me students of the world
What lessons have the Fates now hurled
Upon the table with these dice
As sevens, snake eyes, cold as ice?

Can books remain where they’re not read,
Like stones upon the buried dead?
Or will we crack these useful pages,
And learn from thoughts of wondrous sages?

Thomas Gilbert has spent the better part of the last 52 years in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities. Over the last 30 years he has produced a program for teaching full literacy skills to those within this population with Aspergers, autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, dyslexia, traumatic brain injury, ADD and ADHD.

Thomas’s web site on literacy acquisition is It is 100% free to use and share and download. Thomas also dabbles in writing poetry, short stories and novels He has composed simple musical compositions for piano. Thomas also has a deep curiosity about metaphysics and mysticism.

Tick tock, tick tock . . .

. . . says the Doomsday clock

Zombie Apocalypse, 25 th July 2021

By Gordon Liddle

It looks as though the scientists who run the Doomsday Clock will be shaving another second off it sometime soon. The world is slowly going mad. Après Moi, Le Deluge. So, Parliament has broken up for the summer recess. I have no doubt many on the Tory benches and probably quite a few on the Labour side, will now be off on expenses paid jollies to their donor’s villas and yachts, or else spending a little time with their families instead of the secretary or staffer (we all know who you are!), setting aside the heavy weight of office and chilling. Because, after all, we aren’t in the middle of the Zombie Apocalypse, the NHS isn’t creaking, and the supermarkets aren’t suffering shortages. Nothing to see here, go home and chillax. Oh, and just before leaving, Williamson the fireplace salesman announced funding cuts of up to 50% for art and design courses because of course, we don’t want people wasting their time on these trivialities when they could be training to become a cog in the capitalist treadmill. Cultural suicide. So, ‘we are off on our hols, toodle pip, fend for yourselves till we get back!’

Tick tock, tick tock!

The Media have at last noticed supply chains and deliveries have slowed since Brexit and, due to a combination of reasons; the supermarkets are running out of ‘stuff’ in their aisles. The government have invented a new word to cover the embarrassment of Brexit losses and have given it the cosy name ‘pingdemic’, partly to cover their incompetence and partly because the British public are gullible idiots, used to a diet of simple buzz words and short slogans. It’s really weird that the rest of Europe, who have the same virus (brewed in the UK, cheers Spaffer) and who are not running low in their supermarkets, don’t have the same problem. That’s because it has nothing to do with the virus and everything to do with Brexit and wages.

All the excitement and enthusiasm generated by Corbyn has been allowed to run into the dry ground.

Even before this crisis hit, lorry drivers were leaving due to time away from home and crap wages. Our EU migrants filled the void, as they do with short-term farm labour and fruit picking etc. but now, they have all gone home, leaving our fruit and veg rotting in the fields as it can’t be picked and, even if it could there is no-one to transport it for processing or delivery. What a result. So, faced with this crisis what does the government do? They ‘allow’ lorry drivers to work longer hours. Not more pay, or better conditions? Oh no, they have to sit in that forty-tonne juggernaut for longer, making them more tired and frankly putting their lives and the public at risk. Now we have to sit and wait for the first sleep induced, child crushing pile up and the inevitable crucifying of the unfortunate driver. You know it’s coming.

Tick tock, tick tock.

Meanwhile, Sir Rodney Woodentop has busied himself by proscribing more and more left wingers (socialists) and left-wing groups from Labour, whilst meantime bankrupting the Party into the bargain. While Labour wallows well below the Tory Party in the polls, despite the Tories laying waste to the economy, allowing grannie to die in her own fluids and pursuing herd immunity by allowing all our children to catch it, Rodney doesn’t seem capable of putting two ideas together to take the fight to the Tories. As members leave Labour in their thousands and now some Unions are looking to break from Labour, he seems to have locked himself in that Blairite Westmonster bubble, content with sitting in the corner with his hands over his ears chanting ‘La, La, La!’ It’s embarrassing how feeble the Labour Party is now. All the excitement and enthusiasm generated by Corbyn has been allowed to run into the dry ground.

A brief period when the Party was fertile with ideas and youthful energy has become a moribund, desperate B Team for the Tories. No-one can convince me Rodney wasn’t a plant. He has broken the Party and spaffed the money away. Imaging how the electorate will judge him if the Tory press ever turn on him.

‘How are you going to run the economy when you couldn’t even look after the finances of your own Party?’

This week he took to sacking a load of staff from Party HQ and replacing some with temps from an agency. When did fire and rehire become policy? He then did a puff piece for Newsnight with Laura K in which the ‘guest’ hand-picked normal ‘working class voters’ at and asked him a few mild questioned. One hadn’t even heard of him. Big impact there Rodney, really making a name for yourself. Big smiles from Laura K who could barely hide her contempt when interviewing Corbyn, and he ended the interview with something about not wanting to sit in a warm bath. It was excruciating to watch. His days are numbered, it can’t come soon enough.

Tick tock, tick tock.

Yesterday we had the Freedumb demo in London, as well as a coordinated echo in afew other cities across Europe and the US. All the usual suspects were there, David Icke,Piers Corbyn, Kate Semirami, Mike Steele (with an e) and others, etc. Also there was KatieHopkins, fresh from her expulsion from Australia (I mean, how bad do you have to be to getexpelled by the Aussies?) although large parts of the crowd had to turn their backs and look back at her through a mirror to stop themselves from turning to stone. And yes, there was a large crowd, Trump flags here and there. They have slipped from protesting about lockdown (which barely existed) to now protesting about the vaccines as well as 5G and LED’s. I kid you not.

I mean, how bad do you have to be to get
expelled by the Aussies?

Mark Steele ranted on about 5G and LEDs as being so dangerous your streetlamp outside your house is going to kill you, whist simultaneously standing in front of a giant LED screen which could be seen from space. Batshit crazy. Big applause from the crowd, dying to hear the main act. Next was the Covidiot Barbie, Kate Semirani, whose own son came on BBC radio4 this morning to say she was in fact, batshit crazy. Kate ranted on and on about how the vaccine was going to kill thousands of us and we should be having a Nuremberg style trial after which we would be hanging doctors and nurses, none of whom heard this condemnation firsthand, as most were ether exhausted resting at home or manning the pumps in the busy ICU’s up and down the country.

Kate, who was an actual nurse until she was struck off last year for being batshit crazy, has built up quite a following and seems tobe at every demo and public opportunity of late. I’m sure she’ll make an appearance on GBnews soon, probably interviewed by Farage if he takes time off from boat spotting in Kent. Idon’t understand how she gets so worked up about the vaccine, as, judging by the pictures on her social media pages, she’s obviously no stranger to the needle as she looks as if she’s had enough Botox to stop the oncoming plague of rats.

David Icke, who came on stage to a hero’s welcome and left them all singing Karaoke, with lizards.

Then came Piers of course, listing the great dangers that face humanity, the great climate change lie, the vaccine danger, the fact the virus is only a mild flue, a hoax propagated by Bill Gates and George Soros, and of course 5G. Which lead up to the rock star himself, David Icke, who came on stage to a hero’s welcome and left them all singing Karaoke, with lizards. Great entertainment but with the added potential for violence.

Now it is all very well to laugh at these people, but it would be a mistake. Fake news is the ocean the lies and disinformation swim within, slithering like eels in the Sargasso Sea. Too slippy and elegantly pulsating to grab and identify. The MSM amplify and codify the message to suit those in power who own them and Facebook and other social media platforms spread it like a mycelium. These people are channelled funds from well-heeled and dangerous disaster capitalists, such as Charles Koch and others, to ferment disorder and distraction to hide their real agenda, which is rampant resource extraction and accumulating wealth.

The virus sweeping the planet and doing the real damage is not the Saars/covid one, it is Capitalism.

They will stop at nothing, even the destruction of the planet in their quest for more wealth and assets. They are psychopaths and some how, they have to be stopped. The virus sweeping the planet and doing the real damage is not the Saars/covid one, it is Capitalism. Eventually the current virus will be brought to heel, despite the best efforts of the idiots in governments, but the real virus is still at large, destroying ecosystems, toppling mountains for new mines, poisoning the oceans and depleting the stocks of insects and micro creatures that feed whole ecosystems, including humanity.

The problem is, as Frederick Jameson said, ‘it is easier to imaging the end of the world than the end of capitalism!’ The people who run our systems and who feel born to rule, entitled to power, they actually believe this is the end point of history, that all roads lead to where we are now and that Capitalism is the destination of humanity, the culmination of all our previous history and cultures. It may be viewed as slightly imperfect by liberal critics, but it is the best we have and there is no alternative. There is an omerta code among our elites that will not let business as usual be disrupted at any cost, even at the cost of the earth itself. Any alternatives are quickly stamped out.

Greta Thunberg keeps reminding us to ‘mind the gap’ between the words and actions of our
political class. The gap is widening.

Biden himself, an alleged liberal, will keep that punishing blockade on Cuba, keep bombing Somalis, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, will let his CIA format coups in any Latin American country which does not toe the line, which does not allow US corporations to go in and plunder the commons, will support Bolsonaro to extract the last log from the last tree in the Amazon and turn it into wasteland. They do not see the point of any dialectic with Nature. Any understanding that does not square with their inalienable belief that Nature is a free resource to be used and dumped as garbage and pollution cannot be contemplated.

But they are wrong. Whilst we could have a dialectic with the natural world, we are choosing to treat it like a slave, to be used freely until it dies. But Nature is not our slave, and it certainly does not need us. The bear will shit in the woods whether we are there to see it or not. Greta Thunberg keeps reminding us to ‘mind the gap’ between the words and actions of our political class. The gap is widening. As the floods continue across the EU and India, and the wildfires consume huge areas of Siberia and the North West of the United States and Canada, we will have to brace for what is still to come as we miss every chance to slow down or stop the destruction.

The demo’s are just one example to show the depth of the poison that is being drip fed into our civilisation. It will inevitably lead to violence as a somnabulant population is suddenly awakened by the jolt of catastrophic events heading our way very soon. Hopefully the disappearance of a Twix and a pot noodle from our supermarket shelves will open a few more eyes but the depth of ignorance in society is deeply distressing. It isn’t going to end well. We need those in power turfed out as soon as possible. Those who purport to govern are not fit for purpose, they never were. Quite how we do it I am not sure, but the tinderbox is getting dryer and could ignite at any time. We will be losing a few more seconds off that clock very soon.

Tick tock, tick tock…………….

Gordon Liddle, artist and poet

Gordon Liddle was born 1956, Horden, County Durham, United Kingdom Married, lives and works at his Derbyshire studio. BA Hons, Sheffield Psalter Lane Art College Gordon has had numerous positions and travelled extensively through the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, Africa and Europe, with particular interests in religion, democracy, politics, economics, MMT, and culture. The results of these studies form the basis of the series of works now under way. Numerous works bought by private collectors #Madonna Victorian Mood Bought by Andrew Cavendish the 11th Duke of Devonshire is owned by the Chatsworth Collection. ‘Celestial Teapot’ was exhibited at La Galleria Pall Mall in London for one week in 2013, 4 days at Art Basel in 2014. Currently working on Gaia, The Sixth Extinction Series, of paintings, woodcuts and hopefully etchings soon. Also writing two books and a book of poems and rants. Gordon is on Twitter @sutongirotcip and his website is 

Cannibal Capitalism ends up by eating itself

Rosa Luxemburg said: ‘There is socialism, or there is barbarism.’

By Gordon Liddle

We live on the only Paradise humans will ever know. It reduces down to one strike and you’re out. Life here is as far as we know the only life there is. We haven’t even begun to understand it. We have barely begun to understand, we don’t understand it, yet we are at ad hock war with every other life form, organic or inorganic, the very mix that sustains us, driven by greed and ignorance. I suggest we turn our gaze to those who rule and subdue us. They are the enemy at the gates.

            People often see my stuff and ask me why I’m painting about it. Why not just do some portraits, or maybe a nice landscape or whatever. Why the need to paint about an Extinction event. Isn’t it a bit ‘depressing?’ Well yes, it is. And it’s getting more depressing by the day. And I don’t just paint or make art about it, I write about it as well as forming poetry about it. That and politics, which is almost the same thing. And of course, Capitalism, Consumer Industrial Capitalism, which is at the heart of everything bad.

I suggest we turn our gaze to those who rule and subdue us. They are the enemy at the gates.

It is as basic as this, at this moment in time we are losing the race to survive as a species on a viable planet, and we are condemning our fellow passengers on this pale blue dot into the bargain. And they don’t deserve to share our fate. We categorise them as biomass, mainly to be exploited but not as family members, which they all are.

We have just witnessed the great and good gather for this year’s photo-op at the G7 summit, at which our glorious leaders, well some of them, pontificated on climate change, ecological collapse, intra-country relationships, trade deals, coming disputes and wars and who is an ally to whom.

Oh, and they discussed the Zombie Apocalypse and their failure to open-source vaccines to those countries who can’t afford it. Biden then tripped off to NATO to gird members loins and determination in the upcoming war against China. Nothing changed. Nothing happened to lower fossil fuel use, nothing changed to stop resource extraction which is fuelling ecological collapse, and nothing happen to protect or even acknowledge our fellow non-humans.

Here in the UK, Spaffer was hoping to use the meetings to stage Brexit Britain, open for business, but instead looked and sounded more like the drunk uncle at the party. Truly embarrassing and more so as we see the Spaffer variant (entirely down to him and his desperation for an Indian Trade deal) starting to take us into a third wave.

Here in the UK, Spaffer Johnson was hoping to use the meetings to stage Brexit Britain, open for business, but instead looked and sounded more like the drunk uncle at the party.

Idiocy doesn’t even cover it. Now, after seeing how our leaders handled Saars/covid, imagine how badly they are going to handle the future of this planet. They put the economy first time and time again at the cost of lives and they will do exactly the same with the planet. Nothing will stop consumer capitalism. It remains sacrosanct to this civilisation.

            They keep talking about a Green New Deal, Building Back Better, and whatever slogan is dreamt up this week, and how new Green Tech is going to alleviate climate change and ecological drift, and create clean jobs and a more equal society, but as every day passes the assault on the planet gathers pace. Ever since man became agrarian and started clearing forests to plough, the assault has been relentless, then turbocharged by the Industrial Revolution. First by burning wood, the coal and now oil.

Monocrops have denuded the soil itself. The very existence of a monocrop is a direct attack on the planet. Every other creature in that cultured landscape is deliberately killed to allow one species to dominate. A teaspoon of healthy soil can have a billion creatures within it, each interacting with each other. Imagine how many in an acre, how many interactions.

A teaspoon of healthy soil can have a billion creatures within it, each interacting with each other.

And we think only humans can have a society. Our civilisation is in thrall to subduing the planet, to skin it alive, remove mountains by mining, remove topsoil by monocrops and ploughing, denude the oceans of fish and feedstocks, break every ecological cascade until it is too weak to survive. 

The Greens themselves are ensconced in the nonsense of building more wind turbines, more solar panels, more dams. None of this reduced the use of fossil fuels as all the technologies rely on those fuels for their existence. Every new green technology is a product of our industrial society and none are compatible with saving the planet. They all want to save civilisation and yet, at the moment, it is this very civilisation that if the destructive force.

Each dam constructed for supplying power to logging and mining conglomerations destroys the river it sits on, destroying the ecosystem beneath and above it and belching methane for decades. Each solar panel means huge mining operations for silicon.

They all want to save civilisation and yet, at the moment, it is this very civilisation that is the destructive force.

For batteries, the great hope or so we are told for energy storage, we need Lithium and other toxic materials, usually at the expense of local indigenous peoples who are either subjugated as slaves to man the mines or ethnically cleansed from the land to allow operations to continue. Each mine pollutes the land and local water supplies, and each mine pushes further species into extinction.

Detail from Gordon Liddle’s extinction series

Each new industrial breakthrough needs more power and more chemicals, and more minerals and so more and more fossil fuels are needed, not less. Refining ore requires huge amounts of water, acids and other toxic chemicals to break down the ore, denuding and polluting aquifers, rivers, soil and other reserves.

Silicon for instance produces about four times the amount gained in waste alone. Usually this is dumped on hapless locals as an externality. To collect the waste and treat it takes a huge amount more energy and so more fuel burning. The desperate race for Lithium has the United States government undermining political groups in Latin America to organise coups to allow their corporations access for mining.

The indigenous peoples in the wild parts of these countries are not worth the worry. The capitalist industrial machine has to be fed at all costs to keep the profits coming to the few. The Liberal Greens new idol with his space exploits and battery driven cars Elon Musk even Tweeted his approval of the coup attempt? ‘We will coup whoever we want!’ And this man is our Green hope? Gtf!

Elon Musk even Tweeted his approval of the coup attempt? ‘We will coup whoever we want!’ And this man is our Green hope?!

Our big tech billionaires are convinced we will be mining asteroids and colonising (yes, they really do use that word) other planets in the near future, setting up groups to live on Mars and then beyond. The arrogance, the hubris of these billionaires is simply staggering. These people who have accumulated so much wealth from other people’s labour are ruthless psychopaths. We have no chance of living on Mars, or anywhere else apart from Earth.

Humans are of this planet. We evolved over millions of years to the conditions here. Our blood flow, the rate out hearts pump, the way our brain works, all evolved within a very specific gravitational pull which is not represented on any other planet we know of. We would become very sick very soon if we even managed to make the passage there.

The first thing an astronaut gets in space is a headache, then during long term stays on the ISS they have to do a repeat daily of very specific exercised and they still come back with damaged bones and severely depleted muscle mass. The only thing we can send to distant planets are robots and signals.

There will be no long-term human expansion to another planet. Let’s nail that lie now.

We are turning the planet into products. To make new ‘Green’ energy (it is no such thing), we need more mines, more destruction and more slaves, be they human or machines, and these machines need more power to make more stuff.

Each ‘new Green product makes more and more pollution and takes more from the planet than it gives back; and each big step forward kills more and more of our non-human companions. Can you see the pattern yet? Oh, and each new ‘Green’ advance is fuelled by more and more fossil fuels and needs more and more plastic and chemicals therein.

Greens (I don’t even have to talk about the psychopaths on the right, the corporations and their stooges in governments the world over), want to preserve our ‘way of life’ not the planet. They want carbon taxes, more industrial fixes, more tinkering with market mechanisms, which, ironically puts them in lockstep with climate change deniers and fascists running the conglomerates. They at least understand that to save the planet needs transforming the very fabric of our civilisation, and they cannot contemplate anything else as an alternative. They cannot (neither can the Greens) contemplate de-growth. An end to industrial consumer consumerism.

Humans are of this planet. We evolved over millions of years to the conditions here.

More energy needs more machines, and more machines need more materials and even more energy in an exponential cycle of destruction. We need a socialist ecologically driven new paradigm which encompasses the basic needs of everyone on the planet, be they human or non-human. Capitalism ends up eating itself, as Marx fully understood. And as another great socialist Red Rosa remarked, there is Socialism or Barbarism. Our non-human friends are also our comrades. Whatever we do we have to protect them as if we were protecting our own families.

            I was chatting to an evangelical friend of mine recently. He has his views on life the universe and everything and is planning for the next life, for those who will be ‘saved on the Arc!’ I suggested that even by the literature in his very own much revered book, we were thrown out of Paradise by God for transgressing His laws.

We have then gone on to trash this planet and you are suggesting He is going to lead us into another one. What is it? Three times lucky?

Gordon Liddle in his studio

Gordon Liddle was born 1956, Horden, County Durham, United Kingdom Married, lives and works at his Derbyshire studio. BA Hons, Sheffield Psalter Lane Art College Gordon has had numerous positions and travelled extensively through the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, Africa and Europe, with particular interests in religion, democracy, politics, economics, MMT, and culture. The results of these studies form the basis of the series of works now under way. Numerous works bought by private collectors #Madonna Victorian Mood Bought by Andrew Cavendish the 11th Duke of Devonshire is owned by the Chatsworth Collection. ‘Celestial Teapot’ was exhibited at La Galleria Pall Mall in London for one week in 2013, 4 days at Art Basel in 2014. Currently working on Gaia, The Sixth Extinction Series, of paintings, woodcuts and hopefully etchings soon. Also writing two books and a book of poems and rants. Gordon is on Twitter @sutongirotcip and his website is 

Born to Respect the Wild

We grew up up understanding that nature is wild and and dangerous.

Eve Hall and Teresa Hall-Elvira in Zimbabwe

By Phil Hall

In a film that hasn’t really stood the test of time, My Dinner with Andre, one of the characters played by Wallace Shawn says:

I enjoy getting up in the morning and having the cold cup of coffee that’s been waiting for me all night. It’s still there for me to drink in the morning and no cockroach or fly has died in it overnight. I mean, I’m just so thrilled when I get up and I see the coffee there just the way I wanted it.

When I think of England I smile. From a plane flying over it looks gardened. And it is a garden; all the pests and dangerous animals seem to have been removed. Yes, there are a few vipers here and there. Of course there are foxes and squirrels. Surprisingly, as the sun goes down near a lake, there are midges, too. Rats. But the really dangerous animals in England are just human sidekicks; pitbulls and police horses.

The common adder, Wikimedia Commons

When I was four we came to live in Langata and in those days Langata was a small leafy settlement sixteen kilometres away from Nairobi.

We had a VW Beetle. Its number plate was KGB 778. It would clatter smoothly in and out of Nairobi. From Nairobi we would head out across the flat plain covered in elephant grass towards our home. Our house was a cabin on stilts hidden by trees.

It took some time to get home. The landmark was Wilson Airport on the left. We would look at all the little aircraft parked in a row. They were like toys. The runway set off about 100 yards from the road behind a wire fence.

Later on when we moved for the first time to the UK I felt nostalgia for Kenya We all did. Perhaps our memories of Kenya got in the way of appreciating England as much as we should have. After all, my parents owned a pretty house with a plot of land right near the Thames in Abingdon.

Before I went to sleep I would fantasise about finding a little plane and flying back to Kenya. I imagined filling the plane up with mangoes, pineapples, papayas, avocados and grenadilla and bringing them back to surprise my family. Of course the little plane in my imagination was like one of the planes I saw parked at Wilson Airport.

The Hall home in Langata

Wilson Airport at dusk was beautiful. The planes were small sparks; landing, taking off, and taxiing. It’s odd if you are used to Northern Europe, but at the equator the sun sets quickly, like a curtain falling. It takes about half an hour for the horizon to dim and the colouring to fade to darkness.

As we drove, the sun setting, there was the strong smell of long grass whenever you rolled down a window. It gets cold fast near Nairobi because of the altitude. In 1964 there were still a few dangerous animals about. Animals could easily wander out of Nairobi National Park, and they did.

Whenever we could we visited Nairobi National Park. It is not a very big park and it wasn’t far from our house. It was busy. Even back then you could spot a pride of lions by the little circle of cars parked around it.

KGB 778 at lake Naivasha, Nola on the right

According to Mom, when we first arrived in Langata there were reports of a leopard wandering around nearby. You would think twice before stopping the car to pee. The headlights of the car picked out many eyes. Night was more populated than day.

Elephant Grass has a strong and pleasant smell

Our house was on stilts because there were snakes, insects and rodents. It stood on tiptoe. Sometimes Mom and Dad went partying in town – they were in their late twenties. They would leave us with David the gardener. David enjoyed frightening us with stories about Hyenas. Hyenas have a special place in African myth and legend.

Listen. he would say, sharply. We would listen.

Invariably a a dog howled in the distance … another dog answered.

That’s a hyena. Do you know what hyenas like to eat?

Little boys. he would say, and he poked us with his hard forefinger.

A book that any Kenyan boy or girl would know about and read was the Man Eaters of Tsavo. While they were building the railway to Mombasa lions ate some of the workers. When we drove to Mombasa from Nairobi for some of the road the railway would run parallel to us. We would match speeds with the train and wave at the people. Then either Mom or Dad might mention the story.

The Man Eaters of Tsavo

Once, when we woke up we saw a long, moving red path, almost a foot wide, crossing the garden. Army ants. They swarmed over the little animals that crossed their path leaving nothing behind but tiny skeletons. Odaouda, who worked for Mom and Dad, destroyed the army ants by pouring petrol onto them and setting them alight in a crackling flame.

We grew up fearing large animals. Elephants could squash cars and sometimes did. Leopards were beautiful, and cunning, but evil. Rhinos charged you down. Hippos crushed you in their jaws. Buffaloes smashed you up. Better not get close. Better not go near. Better back off.

Once we were getting a friend of the family from New York , Stephanie Urdang, ready to go trekking with the freedom fighters in Guinea Bissau. We decided to go for a long walk in the rift valley.

The view from the escarpment has always been our favourite. The whole Rift Valley is visible. The whole tear in the continent is exposed. A part of Africa is being ripped off. You drive up and on the one side there are rolling green hills. Karen Blixen lived somewhere nearby. On the other side there is a steep cliff. Below and in the far distance there are mountains, and beyond them is another range of mountains and beyond them, you think you can see the other side of the Rift.

Mom and Dad/Eve and Tony Hall, looking out across the great Rift Valley

We went many times. Sometimes we would drive down to the floor of the rift and stop at a huge rock and sit on it. We sat on the warm rock and reconnected to something very old living at the root of things.

On this occasion, with Stephanie we trekked up a ridge, all four of us reached the top, Dad arrived first and he found found himself facing a full grown buffalo. In Kenya many more people are killed by charging buffaloes than are killed by lions. The buffalo looked at Dad.

Normally, I feel, Dad would have bluffed his way out of danger and shouted something like:

Futsack! Which means Get lost. in Afrikaans.

But this time he couldn’t speak. The buffalo looked at him for a while. Then its shoulders shuddered and it trotted away, dipping down off the ridge.

When I took Teresa to Zimbabwe for the first time after we married her eyes were like saucers. She fell in love with Zimbabwe and Africa immediately. So much so that she has spent the last twenty years visiting different African countries as a project manager – for different charities.

In Zimbabwe my parents were the perfect hosts. They had come from Somalia where the civil war had just started. In contract, the early 1980’s, Harare was a peaceful, beautiful, happy capital, with jacaranda lined avenues and school children all dressed up neatly in ironed uniforms, ready for school in the mornings. In the evenings the churches were full of choirs practicing for Sunday prayer. The shops and markets had plenty of things to sell and Zimbabwean art was going through a renaissance.

Mom and Dad took pride in Zimbabwean products and so Tere and I sat down to a perfectly laid breakfast table, drank fresh orange juice and ate milk with cornflakes that tasted like wood shavings. I am sure they taste better now.

They took us to a Rhino Farm where I have pictures of Tere nervously feeding milk to a baby rhino with a huge milk bottle. The rhino quickly chugged the milk down. Then they took us to see ancient rock formations and carvings made by people thousands of years ago. From there we went to a camp at night. Of course, as Kenyans we felt that it was a little kitsch, but we didn’t mind Zimbabwe. It has its ancient cities, and it has its Ulurus. Huge outcrops of rock stacked up everywhere, laid bare by erosion.

And they sent us to Victoria Falls. One of the things you can do in Victoria Falls is to fly over them and see the falls from the air and the hippos. The light aircraft we were in circled round the hippos squashed together with their huge heads and bums touching in great rusty coloured hippo crowds.

The real name of the Victoria Falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya, the Smoke that Thunders. We went along the traditional walk unaccompanied, not at the bottom of the fall, but at the top. First a buffalo crossed our path. We waited from far away until he moved off. Then, as we walked along, and the path narrowed, we came across elephant dung.

It’s fresh. I said to Tere.

Suddenly, there was a whipping sound to the right. A crocodile flipped into the water, disturbed by our passing. Then we came out onto the road and about thirty metres in front of us we saw what I was hoping we would not see, a large elephant. Following behind her was a calf. The elephant was stripping leaves off trees.

The Rift Valley, picture from about 1965

Although I loved the fact that Teresa could witness it, to disturb a female elephant with a calf, on foot, is madness. We backed off slowly. Tere clutched my arm. We both stepped backwards until we were at the narrow path again. The elephant and her calf moved off into the forest.

But as we moved backwards, two tourists who were had come up from behind us moved forwards. They hurried to follow the elephant and her calf into the trees, with their cameras, whispering to each other in German.

We grew with an understanding that nature is wild it is also, possibly very dangerous, not so many Europeans. They had no sense of danger. They lacked respect. They seemed to think of nature as an adventure playground. Nature, for Europeans seems to mean something different. For them Mosi-oa-Tunya was like a cross between a place to have a picnic and a a petting zoo.

Phil Hall is a college lecturer. He is a committed socialist and humanitarian. Phil was born in South Africa where his parents were in the ANC. There, his mother was imprisoned and his father was the first journalist from a national paper to be banned. Phil grew up in East Africa and settled in Kingston-upon-Thames. He has also lived and worked in the Ukraine, Spain, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Phil has blogged for the Guardian, the Morning Star and several other publications and he has written stories for The London Magazine. He started Ars Notoria in May 2020.


The Doomers vs Humanity

Global warming is the Doomers’ excuse to voice their hatred of people.

By Phil Hall

The debate about global warming parallels the debate about nuclear catastrophe. We are as close as we ever were to catastrophe, to the danger of bio-warfare, chemical warfare and nuclear warfare. To this we have now added cyber-warfare. Despite this danger, CND is utterly invisible. Has the danger disappeared? It has not. How can we explain CND’s disappearance? I asked a young activist about CND. She had never heard of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

The forgotten symbol of CND

In the 1980s anyone who claimed nuclear war was survivable was shouted down; they were screamed at by weeping militants, people who shed hot, passionate tears for the future generations of mutant, starving children; the ones you see all around you.

They are looking fondly at albums of marches and their camps around missile sites, as if it were all just an old hobby. Where are those camps now? Has the danger passed? It has not! Where are those middle-class activists now?

They are here. The people who glue themselves to trains and wear billboards saying the world is about to end behave in much the same way as their apolitical middle class counterparts did in the 80s when we faced the prospect of nuclear war. They don’t believe in socialism and they don’t point the finger squarely at capitalism. Instead they just bleat: For heaven’s sake, someone do something!

Worse than the ultra middle class ecologists are the Doomers. They have joined Extinction Rebellion. Philosophers of Deep Ecology and their fellow travellers often compare humans to parasites. They are misanthropes and hardly the right people to guide us. Fascists can be ecologists too. The Green Party is a Trojan horse that anyone can use. The Green Party is hollow, it is not a socialist party.

It’s too late. Don’t bother trying to save the planet. Game over.

The philosophers of Deep Ecology don’t even argue for the survival of humanity, but for the survival of systems and they make grand generalisations about destruction with hysterical gravitas to support their arguments; arguments for the end of civilisation, for the death of the cities and the depopulation of the Earth.

These are sometimes the same people who want to save the Amazon from the depredations of those pesky poor farming mulattos; all those brown people ruining the ecology for sensitive first world oxygen breathers, for gap year students. These are the new eco imperialists. Save Africa for the lions and rhinos and to hell with the Africans.

For some people global catastrophe is a kind of pathetic fallacy, the reflection of their own psyche and their sweet longing for Thanatos. Survivalists dribble in anticipation of the destruction of civilisation.

The dangers of global warming are real.

The dangers of global warming are real. The best estimates are that global temperatures will go up by 6 degrees by the end of the century and that sea levels will increase to 5 metres and that impoverished low-lying nations like Bangladesh, which has a population of 161 million crammed into a river delta, will see terrible suffering from sea level rise. There are many terrible consequences. Rivers will run dry. Places that were warm will become very cold. Places that were cold might become very hot. Fires will rage. Hurricanes and typhoons will dash against coasts everywhere. It’s biblical.

Some scientists are even more pessimistic. But even their pessimism has its limits. What will happen, awful as it may be, seems to be just about within the limits of human tolerance. Hundreds of millions of people will be displaced, tens of millions will suffer terribly, millions will die. That’s bad, as bad as a world war but it will not mean the end of the world.

To catastrophise and exaggerate and to whip the younger generation into a frenzy of fear and despair is an evil act.

Meanwhile, the North West Passage opens and Greenland actually becomes green, and the north of Russia melts into arable land. The prospect of capitalism’s Lebensraum growing makes ruthless corporations rub their hands.

Piazzetta san Marco during the 1966 flooding, Wikimedia commons

The enemies of humanity are the self-declared enemies of humanity. They are misanthropes. People haters. They are the people who see other people as a plague, but who don’t consider themselves to be members of that set. They remind me of those tourists who go to Venice and complain about all the tourists. They are complaining about people poorer than themselves. They are Doomers.

The Doomers are philistines. They believe in the God of nature and in the self-healing powers of natural systems. Although there is some truth in this, in fact there can no longer be any real rewilding because there is no longer any real wild. French philosophers explained this fact to us in the 1980s.

The wild is partitioned off and managed. Ask the people in charge of the safari parks and they will explain to you how they manage the wilderness, how careful and studied their actions are. Nature can never be left to heal on its own. It needs a knowledgeable push.

If a wild and natural meteor headed wildly and naturally towards earth in order to smash into Earth in a natural, wild way, causing a wild and natural extinction, it is astronomy and rocketry that will allow us to divert it. It is technology and understanding that will rescue the environment, not letting systems recover.

Doomers don’t generate a feeling of constructive engagement, but of nihilistic outrage.

Doomers don’t generate a feeling of constructive, positive engagement, but of nihilistic outrage. They know how to catastrophise without pointing the finger at the cause of the catastrophe: capitalism.

Extreme climate change activists get their jollies from frightening millions of people with the prospect of the end of the world. They do immense psychological damage in their attempts to manipulate. Their visions are a form of nihilistic, castrating, disempowering, terrorism.

Doomsday cultists are always dangerous – from Jim Jones to the survivalists – even when they are partly right. Some of the people who were partly right about nuclear war also used it as a form of social and personal catharsis. The problem continues, but they felt better after they did their primal screaming, and then they moved on. They left CND and forgot about it. It makes you suspicious. What was the purpose of all those protests? Was it just to scream; to emote and feel better afterwards?

Doomsday fantasists are always dangerous people – from Jim Jones to the survivalists – even when they are partly right.

Doris Lessing wrote a book about surviving in a nuclear holocaust. The Swiss government made it the law that every house had to be built with a proper nuclear bunker under it. Nuclear war is eminently survivable and not everyone is going to die. The Swiss were preparing for it. The dangers of nuclear fallout were exaggerated, though the dangers were real. Cynically, you can manipulate and herd people using fear.

Their visions are a form of nihilistic, castrating, disempowering, terrorism.

To catastrophise and exaggerate and to whip the younger generation into a frenzy of fear and despair is evil. It is enough that global warming is real without it being the opportunity for people with damaged psyches to allow themselves the indulgence of emoting about it and project their own unpleasantness onto the external world.

After the very middle class Extinction demonstration, a street cleaner was left to tidy up the huge amount of detritus its well off, organically fed participants left behind.

It was as if I was invisible to them’ he said. Not one of them thanked me for cleaning up after them. I would vote Brexit again just to annoy them.

Phil Hall is a college lecturer. He is a committed socialist and humanitarian. Phil was born in South Africa where his parents were in the ANC. There, his mother was imprisoned and his father was the first journalist from a national paper to be banned. Phil grew up in East Africa and settled in Kingston-upon-Thames. He has also lived and worked in the Ukraine, Spain, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Phil has blogged for the Guardian, the Morning Star and several other publications and he has written stories for The London Magazine. He started Ars Notoria in May 2020.

Brave Green World

Can we look forward to a more sustainable future when the Coronavirus virus recedes?


For the first time in years the smog has cleared over San Francisco, Beijing, Delhi and Los Angeles. The criss-cross vapour trails in the sky have been decimated and for a while bird-song could be heard in urban streets instead of the roar of traffic. The Coronavirus outbreak has led to a massive reduction in global CO2 output.

See the source image

Illuminating as this is, it is still some distance short of the decrease in CO2 output that would be necessary to stay within the Paris Climate Accord of a 1.5 degree climb in global temperature.

Will this breathing space we’ve been given be the wake-up call we need to begin implementing measures that will really tackle the climate problem, or will governments and the corporate sector succeed in getting us back to business as usual – with all that entails? Will the window that has let in this breath of fresh air be slammed shut?

That window is still open. While governments are trying to get countries back to work, in some cases most precipitously, the economic landscape has changed. Riding through the pandemic has been expensive, and the knee-jerk reaction of nations such as the UK – to load the debt accrued onto the people through austerity – will only hinder economic recovery… as well as ramping up already unacceptable levels of hardship for many.

Jobs have disappeared, myriad businesses have gone under. In the UK the government’s insistence on making employees and tenants pay for losses rather corporations and rentiers has been short-sighted. A nation of shopkeepers cannot thrive when the shoppers are skint. The entertainments and hospitality industries are on their knees, and the travel industry will undoubtedly contract greatly.

We’ve learned that our supply chains are fragile, especially international ones, and we’re only ever a matter of days from real shortages. Our wonderful, foolproof economic structure, shaped according to the monetarist tenets of Thatcher and Reagan, is once again exposed as a fragile creature – in need of finance transfusions from the state whenever things get tricky. We’ve also learned that in times of hardship we need better planning at governmental level and far greater self-reliance at local level.

We would do well to heed those lessons. A global contraction, with all the big players facing problems with various degrees of debt, looks inevitable. Their vast stakes in the increasingly fragile fossil fuel industries now look like liabilities. Will we see globalism in retreat? To an extent, it’s bound to happen. If we want to feed ourselves and keep the lights on, we need to be better at growing our own produce and creating our own energy. It will make more and more economic and environmental sense.

Labour’s Green New Deal of 2019 outlined a radical change of direction, and Alan Simpson, Jeremy Corbyn’s advisor on sustainable economics from 2015-19, has recently written on how we can implement these ideas in a post-Coronavirus world.

He is insistent that things will not and cannot revert to the way they were before. Large numbers of consumption-based jobs will simply no longer exist; we won’t be defined so much by what we buy but how we live. He points out that the technologies we need for greater sustainability and self reliance already exist – or will very shortly if we have the will to develop and implement them. We can build a new kind of economy, one that involves the complete replacement of our outdated carbon addicted infrastructure with a sustainable one.

This will all come at a cost, but whichever way nations drag themselves out of the post-Coronavirus slump, a lot more finance will have to be procured. Eyebrows were raised when the Conservatives doubled the UK’s national debt between 2010 and 2019, but on the international stage that is nothing exceptional. Britain hocked itself to the hilt bringing in the Welfare State, and no one except our current administration believes that was money badly spent. Whatever it costs, we cannot afford not to make that investment. The time to begin is now; the impediment is status quo politics.

While the technological know-how to transform nations exists, there is another factor that has to be taken into account before we can even think about environmental sustainability: inequality.

In the 1980s Margaret Thatcher’s assault on the British working class – the destruction of whole industries, communities and social structures, and their replacement with a stakeholder economy peopled by aspirational homeowners – reversed a tendency towards increasing equality that had been in effect since the Second World War. Thanks to Thatcher’s Monetarism people were no longer in it all together, greed became good and sauve qui peut the prevailing credo. And thirteen years of New Labour did little to halt the trend.

As for being “all in it together” during the Coronavirus pandemic, the Dominic Cummings episode has been illuminating. His liberal interpretation of rules he helped formulate unleashed a torrent of people flouting lock-down restrictions. If he could do it, when not everybody?

On a global scale, maybe folk in the richer nations may be coerced and cajoled into adopting more sustainable lifestyles, but such measures will only become acceptable when they are made to apply to everyone.

In the world’s poorer nations, the conditions of most people in the developed world will continue to look like an impossible pipe-dream.

See the source image

For countless millions bare subsistence is the normality. It may well be that one’s first priorities are food to eat and somewhere to live, but once those conditions are met people are entitled to ask why they shouldn’t be able to do a little better…

Across the developing world people live in abject poverty, but with an awareness that there are others enjoying considerably more. The slum hovels in the shadow of the high-rise condos. Long hours working for pittances while glimpsing lives of unbelievable opulence on TV. Hanging onto trucks and buses while limousines sweep by.

Poverty exists almost everywhere, in affluent nations as well as poor. If there is going to be sustainability in a Green New World, then that great swathe of humanity who currently “do without” must be accommodated too. In their books “The Spirit Level” and “The Inner Level” Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett describe how greater equality benefits all, both rich and poor. They cite ‘status insecurity’ as one of the most powerful forces driving inequality, the factor that dives the hedge fund manager to an early heart attack and the benefit claimant to want a better phone. The playing field must be levelled. Somehow, the global tax-avoiding magnate must be reined in and the slum dweller in Jakarta should be able to get the motor scooter and TV she hankers after. Without a levelling, it’s not so much that sustainability will be hard to implement – it’ll be unsustainable.

All being in it together is the key to it all, as Mr Cummings has kindly demonstrated to us. The nations making a better fist of both equality and sustainability – as Wilkinson and Pickett state, they go hand in hand – tend to be those to the left of the political spectrum. Those that use the state to invest sustainably and humanely, and respect human rights.

The world appears to be a million light years from any solutions while demagogues, imbeciles and puppets hold sway in so many influential nations, but as the world’s climate – both physical and political – becomes more volatile, perhaps change will come quickly and unexpectedly.

We can all do our bit, but more than adopting a vegetarian diet or switching to an electric car, the most effective thing we can do is strive for the renaissance of left wing politics. The biggest, most far reaching changes will have to be state-led, and I believe the only means of delivering them is through various forms of democratic socialism.

At home in the UK I’m afraid we have our work cut out with the Labour Party – but strive we must.

Paul Halas’s escape from 1970s hippidom was the discovery that he could invent stories. He spent forty years contributing to various Disney magazines and books, as well as a variety of non-Disney comics, books and animated films. His retirement from commercial writing coincided with Jeremy Corbyn becoming the Labour Party leader, which led to five years’ political activism. He left the party two years ago with a heavy heart.

Abandon the Cities! Go back to the forests and the fields!

Land redistribution would help the British to adapt to a net zero GHG emission society.

by Anandi Sharan

The revolutionary environmentalist, Anandi Sharan, argues that to meet 2050 zero carbon emissions the government must give each of us 1/2 an acre of land.

Political economy in developed countries has as its aim some version or the other of the betterment of the life of humans, be it through capitalism, humane socialism, humane communism or whatever, based on machines. The sticking point is that all the solutions offered by politics are industrial, but the official cross-party national policy objective in the UK is a net zero Green House Gas (GHG) society by 2050 and this requires us to live a non-industrial life.

There is only around half an acre of land per person in the UK. But this is more than enough though to live on and be happy and allow life to flourish. By 2050 there will have to be land redistribution to allow British citizens time to adapt to a net zero GHG emission society. Why is there no party alerting the public to this or planning for this?

The biosphere is intelligent and is urging each individual to grow forests to draw down carbon dioxide and provide shade and happiness. Another illustration of the intelligence of the biosphere is the growing canopy of green in the Arctic tundra and the algae in Antarctica that are drawing down carbon dioxide to stabilise temperatures, much like the biosphere did with the carpet of Azolla in the Arctic during Eocene. Other examples are the myriad facts and mysteries of life itself. Can humans honestly say that they came up with the notion of global warming without the prompting of the biosphere? Nature and humans are inextricably linked, and human intelligence is part of the greater intelligence of the whole.

By 2050, there will have to be land redistribution to allow British citizens time to adapt to a net zero GHG emission society. Why is there no party alerting the public to this or planning for this?

The problem is that scientists don’t believe that life is mysterious and eternal, let alone intelligent. At root, with their philosophy o machine intelligence, they seem to believe life is no different from non-living things. Their shared holy grail is to prove that life emerged from non-life. Perhaps this explains why so many scientists are willing to create technological systems that oppress living beings. Sadly, all the political parties are willing to go along with this negative philosophy of anti-life.

The river Itchen, photo by Phil hall

At root, and perhaps you feel it too, many of us do, there is an underlying unease in the public with agricultural and industrial civilisation. A worker who works in a forest is more likely than not to have some kind of indigenous belief system that puts the happiness of animals, and only then also of humans, at the heart of their world. Such people cannot really bear to harm life, because they see something sacred in it. We cannot quite put our finger on it, but we know that our society is moving beyond both industry and industrial agriculture towards something new. It would be wise to acknowledge that that something is forests.

The Labour Party came up as the party of the proletariat to demand a better deal from the capitalists. After the Chartists had made a beginning with the demand for the vote in the 19th century, the Labour Party took it further in the 20th century. By the 21st century, however, in my view, political parties in the developed countries are not in a position to influence their members at the fundamental level of personal beliefs in ways that would make them happier citizens and better able to adapt to the political, social and economic implications of climate change.

At root, and perhaps you feel it too, many of us do, there is an underlying unease in the public with agricultural and industrial civilisation.

Yet, in the UK national policy demands: individuals and society must adapt to live a net zero GHG life by 2050. Instead of working to help the public understand better the implication of this official goal and trajectory, the Labour Party like the other parties including the Green Party bolster mistaken beliefs that are detrimental to life on earth and to the happiness of their citizens.

North Downs forest near Ranmore Common, photo by Phil Hall

Nationalisation and the Green New Deal are the main bits of the manifesto of the Labour Party that try to confront the problem of global warming. These are rational and socially humane objectives. But voting even for this programme is always going to be a half-hearted.

Neither the Conservatives, the Labour party or even the Green party are able to address the general unease about our current direction of travel, or explain it. They are somehow just fumbling through it all, reacting to whatever comes up.

After 2050, it is lights out for the energy systems that made modern industrialised society possible. This reality should be much more seriously acknowledged.

In the end, the Green party is better than the others at addressing these issues. If one realises that a level of zero GHGs in 2050 is only thirty years away, why waste so much time and energy on industries that depend on burning fossil fuels to produce new kinds of machines that, in turn, depend on fossil fuels? Why this obsession with a ‘Green New Deal’ which is a proposal which will perpetuate this cycle?

So, my counter proposal to voting Labour is not to vote for the Communist Party as the green alternative. In the UK the Communist party directs its members to vote for Labour anyway. It is probably preferable in future to vote for the Greens, who are certainly on the right track. But they are not radical enough on the land question.

It is probably preferable in future to vote for the Greens, who are certainly on the right track. But they are not radical enough on the land question.

My suggestion is to reject, also, what is happening in all the developed countries where mainstream political discourse propagated by white-collar workers and shareholders, bolstered by the media; they encourage the majority in all parties to cling to their belief in machines, industry and industrial forms of agriculture. Industry and industrial agriculture have entered their final three decades.

After 2050, it is lights out for the energy systems that made modern industrialised society possible. This reality should be much more seriously acknowledged. Not doing so is a a cause of great confusion and unhappiness, across society, and across all the parties.The vision of happiness of all the political parties is (still) based on outdated notions of comfort, security, automation, escape from manual labour and fear of the forest. This clinging to the past is counterproductive. Even the Green party has visions of green growth and has not put forests centre stage.

The vision of happiness of all the political parties is (still) based on outdated notions of comfort, security, automation, escape from manual labour and fear of the forest.

The biosphere, however, is urging each one of us to grow forests to draw down carbon dioxide and provide shade and happiness, as indeed the biosphere is itself doing as we are witnessing in the Antarctic and in the Tundra.

By 2050, there will have to be land redistribution to allow the British to adapt to a net zero GHG emission society. We should urge the Green party leadership to alert the public to this and plan for this and campaign for this. Or is it going to happen organically, magically, through morphic resonance in the human species, or some other biological ‘magic’ that as yet unknown? All this while the political parties are looking in another direction?

Anandi Sharan,

Anandi Sharan co-founded the Global Commons Institute along with Aubrey Meyer, Jim Berreen and Tony Cooper. She was active at the UNFCCC from 1991 to 2012 and got several CDM methodologies and projects approved and registered, including projects for improved cookstoves, biogas, and forestry. Anandi lived in Karnataka villages for many years, and now lives in Bangalore where  she works on trying to find the best money system to help people adapt to climate change, especially in India.

You are in for a big surprise

Sandeep Saxena wants us to grow our food in forests

Photo by Pixabay on

By Anandi Sharan

Sandeep Saxena graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology and the India Institute of Management and from a postgraduate in the USA before going to work for Templeton Franklin. During his time there he was asked to investigate the viability of investing in zero budget farming, a trend in organic farming in Andhra Pradesh at the time.

He soon found that, let alone cows and other inputs, there was no information for determining the economic feasibility of organic farming in the chosen regions. After resigning from his job he spent a decade figuring out what made sense … and he realised that in agriculture and forestry there is an either or situation.

At the moment almost all food products are produced under the Borlaug method using the techniques developed in ‘the Green Revolution’ of the 1960s. The products of the Borlag Method have a global market, but the method is now on its way out because, instead of being a sink for emissions, the method produces great quantities of greenhouse gases. These emissions are associated with industrial farming and amount to one sixth of the greenhouse gases in the world.

His realisation was a process of coming to understand how to leave the land untilled to create forests; and he created such examples of forestry on previously tilled land.

Sandeep Saxena’s radical alternative is to grow crops in forests, where financial returns may come a range of unique products that have a premium in today’s health conscious market. His realisation was a process of coming to understand how to leave the land untilled to create forests; and he created such examples of forestry on previously tilled land.

Sandeep now supports the cultivation of traditional products on hundreds of thousands of acres controlled by small holders. Many traditional forest products are gaining a new market in this way too and so the people have renewed faith in the viability of their livelihoods.

Sandeep now supports the cultivation of traditional products on hundreds of thousands of acres contolled by small holders.

His aim he says is nothing less than to make all land use for food crops into cultivated forests so that there is no longer a premium on forest produce; so that it becomes the standard practice. In this way it would take the place of the outdated Green Revolution practices; just as in the previous era, the Borlaug method replaced existing practices and became universal – no longer earning a premium in the market.

Sandeep’s struggle now is to work with others to gain more recognition in the market for forest produce, which is distinct from other organic produce in that it takes a whole forest system to produce forest honey and other products like forest mushrooms, forest turmeric and forest potatoes. Cultivating foodcrops in a forest requires a completely different approach.

The product or products sold from a forest come from just a few of the hundreds of species of plants and animals in the forest. But thanks to the premium they fetch in the market at the moment, the forest is as viable right from the start. With forest cultivation comes vital benefits, at the small scale and on a large scale.

Here are the links to Sandeep Saxena’s website and Tedtalk.

Sandeep Saxena on the topic of using forest to cultivate food

Anandi Sharan

Anandi Sharan was born in Switzerland and educated at the University of
Cambridge. She is a highly influential environmentalist and a co-founder of India’s Green Party. Anandi lived in Karnataka villages for many years, and now lives
in Bangalore where  she works on trying to find the best money system to
help people adapt to climate change especially in India.

Anandi Sharan
1 Kempapura Road
Bangalore 560024

We Were Caught in the Neo-liberal Trap

But now we have another pivotal moment.

Photo by ardeshir etemad on

By Bryan Greetham

Before the Second World War a German chemist was working to discover what we would call today an antibiotic. Each evening he would leave out Petri dishes with bacteria in them so they could grow during the night for him to work on the next day. But everyday he found them dead covered in mould spores, which he assumed came from the spores in the corners of the laboratory. Consequently, he had everything thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated.

Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful in his search for an antibiotic. Yet, if he had only reversed his intuitive assumptions and seen the spores as a solution, rather than a problem, he might have realised that they were the very thing he was looking for. Eventually the Nobel Prize for the discovery of penicillin went to Sir Alexander Fleming after he discovered it in similar mould that had destroyed his own cultures of bacteria.

We are now caught in the same cognitive trap: our expectations are so constrained within the confines of the ruling ideas that we fall victim to unforeseen, deeply destructive events, which, with the benefit of hindsight, were obvious. This is what Nasim Taleb describes as a ‘black swan’: an ‘unknown unknown’.

We reassure ourselves that despite their destructiveness and transformative impact on our lives, they only come rarely. But now we are in the midst of our second in barely twelve years. On the eve of the financial crash of 2007/8 political leaders had no idea what was about to come. Gordon Brown declared that, as a result of the ingenuity and creativity of bankers, ‘A new world order has been created.’ He announced, reassuringly, that we have the privilege of living in ‘an era that history will record as the beginning of a new Golden Age’.

Equally confident, even when there were clear signs that the banking system was in trouble, David Cameron confidently declared that, largely as a result of the bankers’ efforts, a new world economy had been created. The Left’s misguided belief in regulation had been thoroughly discredited, he claimed, ‘Liberalism’ had prevailed and the world economy was now more stable than for a generation. And, as if to underline just how much leaders failed to understand, recently the Bank of England released the minutes of its meetings before the crash, which reveal that they had no idea what was about to happen.

Now we have another black swan. With the signs of the pandemic beginning to appear, in mid January 2020 the World Economic Forum that organises the Davos meetings of the global business elite released its annual global risks report. This is the collective wisdom of hundreds of experts about possible threats. The possibility of a global pandemic did not register, even though by late January cases of Covid 19 had already been reported in Europe.

To divert attention from the failings of his own administration, Donald Trump said that the coronavirus ‘came out of nowhere’, it ‘blindsided the world’, despite the predictions of those not caught in the same cognitive trap. After the Ebola outbreak in 2014 Bill Gates warned that it was now time to prepare for a new pandemic with scenario planning, vaccine research and health worker training. Instead, the Trump administration dismantled the National Security Council directorate at the White House charged with preparing for another pandemic.

But black swans are also pivotal moments, opportunities to address the urgent need for social and political change. Few would have thought such fundamental change was possible a year, even six months, ago. But now governments that pride themselves on their libertarian principles are curtailing freedoms in ways more typical of wartime. There are conservative governments that have for the last ten years been ruthlessly pursuing policies of austerity now sanctioning the spending of unprecedented billions on healthcare and emergency measures, the very services most affected by their austerity.

Like the German chemist, in 2007/8 we had a choice: we could either continue with our conventional beliefs and bail out the wealthy bankers with taxpayers’ money and then recoup it from taxpayers’ pockets with lower real wages and reduced services, or we could change our assumptions and create a more equitable and efficient system. Now we have another pivotal moment. In just about all countries the focus has shifted from individual consumption to collective wellbeing. We have the opportunity to end unlimited resource consumption and design a new economic system that addresses the levels of inequality not seen since the nineteenth century.

Bryan Greetham was born in Faversham, Kent, in England. He was educated at the University of Kent, where he gained a BA Hons in History, and at the University of Sussex, where he completed his MA in Intellectual History. He was awarded his PhD at the University of Newcastle in Australia for his work in moral thinking.

Bryan is the author of How to Write Better Essays, How to Write your Undergraduate Dissertation, both on writing and thinking skills, Philosophy, an introduction to philosophy for undergraduates, Thinking Skills for Professionals and his latest book, Smart Thinking, all published by Palgrave, Macmillan.

Currently Bryan is an Honorary Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Durham. Much of his work has been in moral thinking, applied and professional ethics and in complex adaptive systems. His current research involves what we can learn about moral thinking from the perpetrators, victims, rescuers and bystanders during the Holocaust.

Humanity’s Rosy Fingered Dawn: 2020

By Phil Hall

Covid-19 arrives, We sit at home for a long while. The cities empty, the air clears and bird song seems louder. Translucent jellyfish float up the canal and goats clop through a Welsh hill town. We all see these things presented artistically on slim screens. We, the whole world. There is a big intake of breath and all human beings are asked to think about what kind of future they want for life on Earth, especially those human beings with power and influence. This is a lull before the next phase of human civilisation begins. May it be an improvement on the last. The scientists, doctors, nurses, carers, cleaners, farmers, shopkeepers and delivery workers are our heroes now, not the soldiers, not the vultures.

In the past every single crisis has been nothing more than a call to arms for humanity. Civilisation built on slavery and regimentation gave us protection, education, entertainment, a shared belief system and surplus time to create art and study the sciences – to enhance civilisation. Civilisation is a virtuous circle that overcomes obstacles not through the dreams of a prophet like Daniel, but through the recorded and archived memory of the seasons, of the past flood cycles of the Nile. A Roman villa in Pompei was to die for! Even the wealthiest alive today envy the prosperous Romans.

Colonialism, which oppressed whole nations for years and entrenched racialist belief systems of superiority and entitlement, homogenised the world. The colonialists took the cultivars of the Americas, the products of millennia of selection and cultivation, released them and spread them round the globe. Colonialism turned the Apache, the Mexica and the Inca into Europeans. Colonialism created great spheres of mutual understanding and awareness and strange pairings; so that now Holland really is twinned with Indonesia, so that Morocco has two European brothers called Spain and France, so that a little archipelago to the north of Europe is India’s jewel in the crown. I am talking about identities and shared spaces. How awfully eclectic they are as the result of colonialism.

Colonialism created great spheres of mutual understanding and awareness and strange pairings;

But how shocking to think that just as it was for feudalism, slavery was at the bedrock of capitalism. The foundation stones of modernity are the blood, sweat and tears of men, women and children transplanted to the Caribbean and the southern United States. Under that stratum, even worse, is the genocide of the Caribs and native Americans. Slavery was overthrown, but not before the work of transplanted African people in the Caribbean had provided enough wealth to kick start the industrial revolution and money to build a fair number of the grand country houses of England.

Capitalism is the organised extraction and exploitation of other people’s creativity and labour with the help of the state. After extremely painful beginnings, capitalism, built up through the well-chronicled suffering of the European and US working classes, took off, revolutionising every aspect of our lives. It turned us into wage earners. The capitalist class collects our labour surplus assiduously to the last drop. Capitalism does amazing things with our surplus labour, it builds nuclear submarines and battleships, skyscrapers, rockets, malls and TV stations. The list of what the few do with the labour surplus of the many dumbfounds.

The capitalist class collects our labour surplus assiduously to the last drop.

And now, the system which revolutionised production processes has brought us to such a point in history where technology really has become magic; we have virtual reality, 3D printing, robot combine harvesters, solar power stations and our spacecraft have explored the solar system. Think of the cornucopia of services, experiences and products on offer to almost anyone paid a living wage in modern capitalist society.

Despite the hegemony of this system and the fact that it thrives on a certain level of chaos and misery which is tolerable to the few and intolerable to the many, with every catastrophe humanity, collectively rises to the challenge and overcomes it.

To the disgust of the misanthropes, antibiotics prevents the death of hundreds of millions and nitrate fertiliser easily allows the planet to sustain over 7 billion people – or it would if the food were distributed better. The vast majority of those who live now have better lives than the ordinary people of previous centuries.

Call the New Age humane socialism, if you like.

The instincts of lower order capitalists are deeply piratical, unlike those (ehem) of the more mature billionaire, visionaries and philanthropists – sweethearts like Rockefeller and Gates. There is of course an even darker side of capitalism that thrives on war: the armaments companies, the oil giants, the great spiders who would have you squashed like a bug as soon as look at you.

But now, with the help of Covid-19, we move into the beginnings of a new age. Either it will be yet another phase of capitalism, or it will be the start of a bloodless transformation into something else. Call the New Age humane socialism, if you like.

I am happy to know that I live at the onset of this mythical New Age. Just as people in the present sometimes long to walk in the past, to see Babylon, Rome or London in their full glory, well, in the future they will long to have experienced our very own rosy-fingered, lock-down dawn. They will long to have witnessed what is happening right now, the full awakening of humanity, as we begin to understand we need to work as a planet to meet the challenges that face us, global challenges like Covid-10.

Here are some of those challenges. I have listed them for you, but you are welcome to add to them:

  • The challenge of insufficient intellectual capacity
  • The challenge of a possible catastrophic asteroid or comet strike
  • The challenge of travelling in space long distances
  • The challenge of dealing equably with other species on Earth
  • The challenge of sharing out resources fairly
  • The challenge of engineering evolution
  • The challenge of protecting the vulnerable
  • The challenge of incorporating capitalism into socialist democracy
  • The challenge of reforming toxic recidivist states
  • The challenge of ensuring gender equality
  • The challenge of coexistence, generating mutual respect and solidarity
  • The challenge of life extension
  • The challenge of climate change and global warming
  • The challenge of communication with extraterrestrial species
  • The challenge of dealing with volcanic and seismic activity
  • The challenge of defeating ablism
  • The challenge of taking control away of body image from the fashion industry and commerce
  • The challenge of sharing prosperity and development
  • The challenge of providing ongoing educational opportunities for everyone
  • The challenge of looking after everyone’s health
  • The challenge of providing people with plenty of leisure
  • The challenge of stopping discrimination of all kinds
  • The challenge of ensuring freedom of expression and creativity
  • The challenge of freeing the Earth from pollution of the air, water and earth
  • The challenge of recognising the sentience of species like dolphins, elephants and Bonobos.
  • The challenge of stopping over-fishing of the seas
  • The challenge of ensuring justice for everyone
  • The challenge of creating high quality bionics
  • The challenge of unemployment and underemployment
  • The challenge of discovering as yet unknown dangers and challenges
  • The challenge of providing psychological support
  • The challenge of the husbanding existing raw materials
  • The challenge of the discovery of new sources of raw materials
  • The challenge of development of alternative energies
  • The challenge of dealing with the darkness in human nature


These are a few of the challenges that we will face in this new millennia and, when we do face them we will overcome them. The Earth and our solar system will be a garden. The Earth will be full of conservation parks, it will be full of an impossible beauty.

We are the ones living at this hinge moment, though ultimately it is our children who will have to rise to the challenges ahead; not with the physics of megadeath and aggression, but with their creativity and talent, with passion and self control, with clear thinking.


Phil Hall is a college lecturer. He is a committed socialist and humanitarian. Phil was born in South Africa where his parents were in the ANC. There, his mother was imprisoned and his father was the first journalist from a national paper to be banned. Phil grew up in East Africa and settled in Kingston-upon-Thames. He has also lived and worked in the Ukraine, Spain, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Phil has blogged for the Guardian, the Morning Star and several other publications and he has written stories for The London Magazine. He started Ars Notoria in May 2020.

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