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.

The Magic of Madagascar

Wishing you a rewarding and sublime journey!

By Abhay K.

Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island; after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo. Madagascar is in the western Indian Ocean. Some consider Madagascar to be the Earth’s eighth continent because it has such enormous biodiversity. 

Photo by Abhay K.

Geologically, Madagascar broke away from Gondwanaland with the rest of the world’s continents alongside Africa 167 million years ago. 65 million years ago it broke off from the Indian tectonic plate and it has been isolated ever since. 

Photo by Abhay K.

Madagascar has a diverse landscape. There are narrow plains in the east, a chain of mountains in the centre and wide plains in the west.  Its variations in topography mean it has a variety of climatic regions. This has lead to the evolution of many unique species of plant and animal.

Photo by Abhay K.

The first humans probably arrived in Madagascar in boats from Borneo about 2,000 years ago. Later, migrants reached Madagascar from East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, India and elsewhere. As a result, Madagascar has population made up of 18 different ethnic groups.

An ancient Indian graveyard in Madagascar, photo by Abhay K.

Members of all these ethnic groups speak Malagasy, with some regional variations. Malagasy is a rich language full of strong images, metaphors and proverbs. Most of them originate from Indonesian languages, but some words come into Malagasy from Kiswahili, Arabic and Sanskrit.

Photo by Abhay K.

Madagascar is a global biodiversity hotspot. Its unique flora and fauna are conserved in a network of national parks and protected areas consisting of over 120 places on the island.

Madagascar has made me a haijin

Madagascar has about 13,000 species of flowering plants out of which 89% are native to the island. Madagascar is also the homeland of the baobab tree. Out of the eight species of baobabs found worldwide, six are exclusive to Madagascar.

Photo by Abhay K.
Photo by Abhay K.
Photo by Abhay K.

There are over 150,000 species of invertebrates, including insects, centipedes, spiders crabs, mollusks and leeches. Incredibly, Madagascar also has 300 species of butterflies out of which 211 are native to Madagascar. There are 283 species of birds. 51% of these are only found on the island. Madagascar also has over 110 species of lemurs, from the pygmy mouse lemur weighing only 25 grams, to the Indri Indri, the largest surviving lemur only found here.

Photo by Abhay K.
Photo by Abhay K.

Madagascar has made me a haijin. When I arrived in Madagascar in March 2019, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would start writing haiku. I began with usual length poems but soon felt that I was not able to capture and express the multiple layers of enlightenment I felt taking place within me as I woke up to birdsong, and looked at: mynahs, hoopoes, black Vasa parrots, red fodies, yellow wagtails, green geckos, colour changing chameleons, butterflies and dragonflies of all possible colours.

Bees sucked nectar from flowers and made beehives, while I was upside down on the grass in a yogic headstand pose, gazing at the sky.

Photo by Abhay K.

Long poems were inadequate to express the illumination I felt while travelling across Madagascar listening to the calls of the Indri-Indri bird (critically endangered), or watching silky Sifakas dance, or seeing turtles swimming freely in the emerald Malagasy sea, or watching the sun set through the alley of baobabs.

watching the sun set through the alley of baobabs.

I decided instead to wander around this new continent like a fakir and follow the tradition of Basho, Buson and Issa. As I did so it was as if I came to another island and another time and space.

Photo by Abhay K.

I had a chance meeting with Gabriel Rosenstock in Wardha, India in 2013 at a poetry festival and received from him a copy of The Naked Octopus: Erotic Haiku in English. On another occasion, Robert Hass sent me a signed copy of The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson and Issa from Robert Hass in Washington in 2018. I started reading these books only after arriving in Madagascar and found the short Haiku form to be the perfect medium to help me capture Madagascar’s exquisite and unparalleled natural beauty.

Photo by Abhay K.

These are my very first haiku and I have a steep learning curve ahead of me. Nevertheless, I hope you will experience the luminosity of the island which I am experiencing firsthand as you read this. I try to conjure up that beauty with these images.

a purple shower
of Jacaranda flowers
who needs a red carpet?

sea of innocence
exuding amber light
lemur’s eyes

an ascetic meditating
turned upside down
the baobab tree

giant eggs in drawing rooms
where have all
the elephant birds gone?

below a baobab
what a blessing!

how much
green gecko loves
the bright winter sun

dusk now
radiated tortoise
still grazing

calling out
to walk barefoot
the tsingy of Bemaraha

satanic leaf-tailed gecko
pressed against a tree
doubt you can find it

who could say
they’re not aliens
painted mantellas

flames of yellow
lighting up Ranomafana
moon moths

singing, flying, mating
they spend their days
Vasa parrots

Abhay K. in Madagascar

Abhay K. is the author of nine poetry collections including: The Alphabets of Latin America (Bloomsbury India, 2020). He is the editor of many poetry collections including The Book of Bihari Literature (Harper Collins, 2022), The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian Poems, CAPITALS, New Brazilian Poems and The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems.

Abhay’s poems have appeared in over 100 literary magazines including Poetry Salzburg Review and Asia Literary Review, among others. Abhay’s poem Earth Anthem has been translated into over 140 languages. He received the SAARC Literary Award 2013 and was invited to record his poems at the Library of Congress in 2018.

Abhay’s forthcoming book length poem is titled Monsoon. His translations of Kalidasa’s Meghaduta (Bloomsbury India, 2021) and Ritusamhara (Bloomsbury India, 2021) from Sanskrit, won the KLF Poetry Book of the Year Award for 2020-21.

Abhay’s most recent book is called The Magic of Madagascar. It is published in English and French by Éditions L’Harmattan, Paris, 2021

The cover of Abhay K.’s book, The Magic of Madagascar

Photo by Abhay K.

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 

A tale of two rivers


I have little time for The Guardian these days, but when it comes to reporting on the state of the environment it ain’t so bad. Several articles in recent years – such as “How clean are our rivers?”, “Migratory fish populations plunge 76% in past 50 years” and “Pet flea treatments poisoning rivers across England” – have drawn attention to the sad state of our rivers.

As a lifelong angler I have a particular interest in the state of our rivers, but I shouldn’t think that anyone who cares for the environment will feel any comfort about what’s happening to our – and the world’s – watercourses, and the life that should be teeming in them. The two rivers I refer to are those I’ve spent many years fishing: the upper reaches of the Bristol Avon in England, and the middle stretches of the River Garonne in south-west France; very different in nature, both with big problems.

The Bristol Avon is a middle sized river by UK standards, rising in the Cotswolds and making a wide loop to where it enters the Severn Estuary close to… Bristol. The upper reaches, the part I’m most familiar with, are enchanting. Where it runs through Malmesbury and the Somerfords in Wiltshire, it’s much more a stream than a fully-fledged river – an ideal setting for Hammy the Hamster, Ratty and company. In places it rushes over gravel-beds, in others it meanders through rushes and under willows, it’s a very intimate little river.

Decent barbel from a tiny river.

The fishing is – or rather used to be – a pure joy. No need for mountains of equipment, just a rod, reel, bait, landing net and an extremely stealthy approach. It’s very mobile fishing, you cover a lot of ground. First, a handful of bait into a number of likely spots over a mile or more of stream, then go back and fish them one by one, spending no more than a quarter of an hour in each if there isn’t a bite. A quiet approach is the key, in order not to spook fish in the tiny watercourse. There’s a variety of fish there: roach, dace, perch, chub, trout, grayling, pike, eels, bream… and barbel. Big barbel from small rivers are the great prize for many of us. Bites that wrench your arm off and a fight that leaves your knees trembling.

There are barbel in the Garonne too. It’s one of the major rivers of France, rising in the Pyrenees and flowing north east to Toulouse, before swinging north west to where it eventually joins the Lot and the Dordogne to become the Gironde and flow into the Bay of Biscay. The stretch I know is the mid part of the river, one third of the way from Toulouse to Bordeaux, which lies at the head of its estuary. There’s a wide range of species in the Garonne, or at least there used to be: barbel, roach, carp, crucian carp, perch, zander, pike, bream, grey mullet, allis shad (an endangered migratory species that’s like a cross between a herring and a sea-trout), salmon, sturgeon and… European catfish.

Here an atomic power station enters the story. The Centrale at Golfech is important to the narrative not because it’s dastardly atomic power, but it has a part to play in the study of fish in the river. (As an aside, the power station has already entered local meteorological folklore. You can forecast the weather by looking at the behaviour of the steam plumes from the station’s twin cooling towers. Flatlining means prepare for rain. Better than a mushroom cloud I guess.)

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The Centrale at Golfech.

Of importance fish-wise is the large volume of water taken from the river via the Canal de la Centrale to cool the reactors. Many migrating fish tend to ascend the canal outflow, perhaps due to the warmer or high volume of water, so, in order to ensure their progress upriver, a fish lift, or elevator, in the form of a wire trap into which the fish swim, takes them up a level and then safely past the power station installation and back into the upstream section of the canal. This ingenious scheme allows fisheries scientists to monitor all the fish passing through it, so fish populations and migrations can be charted. It doesn’t give a complete picture, because many fish still use the existing fish ladders to ascend the main river via a series of weirs, but its shows trends. An observation point in the power station allows one to observe the fish passing through lift system, but being in France it’s closed to the public precisely at the time of year when the largest volume of fish is passing through. The findings of the fisheries scientists don’t tell a happy story.

Moving house eight or so years ago a meant what had been a fifteen minute drive to the upper Bristol Avon fishery increased to forty. That’s not why I stopped fishing there. Over the decade or so that I fished there the fishing had declined dramatically. Barbel came out far less frequently and smaller. Chub, which I also love catching, were smaller and scrawnier. It wasn’t just a case of me losing my angling mojo, all the other fishers reported the same thing. Something was going wrong. A detailed fish population survey report in 2016 by the Environment Agency, taking samples from a number of stretches in the river, corroborated what anglers had been finding. Not only were barbel in serious decline, the river’s biomass was reducing as well. It wasn’t just that there were more smaller fish and fewer large ones, the river was supporting less fish-life. The Environment Agency gave a few possible reasons for this, omitting some others, and went on to report that a restocking programme of introducing several thousand immature barbel had failed to make any impact.

I had a long conversation with a fisheries scientist at the Golfech Centrale. She didn’t mention if the Garonne’s biomass had changed to any degree, but she did recount how populations of migratory fish had plummeted in recent years. Salmon, down to a trickle; shad, critically endangered; eels, endangered; sturgeon, borderline extinct. I’ll mention another. Grey mullet, an estuary-loving sea fish, ascended the Garonne in their hundreds of thousands, making their way as far up the river as Golfech, at least 100km above the tidal stretch of the river. Four years ago they simply disappeared. From one year to the next they simply stopped coming. The fisheries scientist couldn’t offer an explanation.

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European catfish. Voracious predators.

One major factor affecting the Garonne, and many similar rivers, is the spread of the European catfish, Siluris glanis. Introduced into many western European river systems during the 1970s by some congenital idiots, the non-native species has spread like wildfire, chomping up everything in its path. They grow big – in the Garonne they reach above 200 lbs, and bigger still in some of the other major rivers – and they’re not fussy about their diet.

A couple of years ago the Depeche du Midi newspaper reported that a couple’s dog, swimming in the river at Lamagistere (a kilometre downstream from Golfech), was engulfed by a large silure.

A ‘Kitten’

You never see ducks or swans on the Garonne any more. The reason is catfish. I used to catch a lot of big carp at Lamagistere, great powerful, torpedo-like things, but they’re now a memory. The reason is catfish. For those equipped for it, the catfish fishing on the Garonne is great. I’ve caught a few smaller ones (of about half a hundredweight) on carp gear, but it’s exhausting. Like twenty minutes with Mike Tyson.

Are catfish the reason for the catastrophic decline in migratory fish in the Garonne? The fisheries scientist couldn’t give a definitive answer, but her feeling was that no, that couldn’t be the entire story. After all, there are still barbel, chub and zander present, but certainly their numbers have dropped.

Thankfully there are no catfish in the Bristol Avon. That’s not to say that predation isn’t at least a part of the problem facing the river’s fish stocks. Leaving aside the creatures that feed on immature fish, the beasties gobbling up mature fish are pike, cormorants, mink and otters. Mink are a pest nowadays, cormorants have come farther and farther inland in recent years, maybe due to overfishing at sea, and eat their own weight in fish every couple of days. Recently re-introduced to many river systems, otters have a definite cuteness factor, but their effect on under-pressure fish populations can be dramatic. When the fish become scarce they feed on other water mammals and birds (a quiet concern of the RSPB). But again, predation only forms part of a far bigger, gloomy picture.

The Guardian, bless its cotton socks, has drawn attention to many of the problems that face these two rivers, and the same applies to countless others across the developed world. These problems include agricultural slurry, human sewage, industrial effluent, invasion by non-native species, heavy metals, sundry chemical waste, growth hormones, antibiotics, even cocaine – there really are accounts of fish getting high from nose-candy in sewage effluent! But perhaps the most intractable problem facing our rivers isn’t what we put into them – that should in theory be controllable – but what we take out of them: water.

Catching Barbel in the Gironne

Our need for water grows and grows. Domestic, agricultural and industrial demand is on an ever upwards trajectory, and climate change is only exacerbating the problem. In the UK the Environment Agency is very coy about the subject. There’s an awful lot of monitoring of water abstraction from our watercourses and aquifers, but precious little action to mitigate the damage done to the environment during times of drought – which no one appears to have any answer to.

In dry summers the upper Bristol Avon is a sad trickle, and even the mighty Garonne becomes very shallow, clogged and sluggish. The Garonne valley below Toulouse is one of the great fruit, vegetable and wine growing areas of France, and all that produce needs a lot of irrigation. Farmers are meant to adhere to quotas… but no one even pretends they stick to them. Those water pumps chug by night. Humans need water, but if our rivers and the rich biodiversity they support are going to survive we’re going to need to find some dramatic and ingenious answers to satisfy our ever increasing thirst.

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The future of our rivers?

As for us anglers, it seems we’re some of the only people fighting a rearguard action for our rivers. Where the Environment Agency should be pitching in, it’s the Angling Trust and similar organisations that are taking legal actions against polluters up and down this country. The (privately owned) water companies are some of the chief culprits for poor water quality, and the Environment Agency frequently appears toothless. Hardly surprising when their chief honcho has just taken off to head one of the major water companies. His insider knowledge should be most valuable.

For most anglers without deep pockets, such as me, most fishing now takes places in lakes and canals, with so many rivers no longer offering the kind of sport we seek. Or being the kind of environment the greater public is entitled to expect. I still love my fishing as much as I did when I first wet a line in the 1950s, despite aches and pains and an inability to withstand the cold, but I miss my small river fishing like crazy. If my grandson ever becomes a fisherman, how I’d love for him to experience the sudden pandemonium of hooking a whopping great barbel in a pristine, tiny river.

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Will he still have healthy rivers to fish in when he grows up?

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.

What can you do about your future?

We need to be better people

By Pete Field

Would you torture your own children? Would you destroy their future? Would you sell out your family and friends for cash? If you could, would you wipe out the world?We love those films where the forces of good destroy the evil psychopath’s plan for world domination. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different: we are not as good as we think we are.

The human dilemma faces us at every turn: shall I do what I want now, or be good, wait and have my reward later? In the case of climate change the reward means a planet we can survive on in the future, a sustainable society, one our children and their children can enjoy living on. If we are to forego something to achieve this goal we want to be sure the game is worth the candle. We want to know that our action will be worth it. This requires belief, a lot of belief in the quality of the information we are using to help us make decisions. Hence the vast spending by oil companies such as Exxon-Mobil to convince the public that climate science was flawed.

Would you destroy your own children’s future?

Now that people have finally accepted climate science the oil companies are touting the need to keep using oil alongside renewables, with natural gas as a ‘bridging fuel’ and coal as a solid backup. Of course we need to stop carbon emissions and the best way to do this is to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Oil majors cannot bear the pain of giving up huge profits nor do they want to lose the investments they have already made so it’s business as usual for most of them, even though they know that these actions will destroy human civilisation by making the planet into an uninhabitable eco-disaster.

How interesting: shareholders and company executives are prepared to doom the world and all who live on it, including themselves and all their friends and relatives, for a few more years of easy profits. Should we call this addiction? Intelligent, well-educated people are quite prepared to devote their lives to accomplishing the destruction of the only life-supporting planet in the known universe, and to trash the human achievements of millennia while utterly destroying the natural world. If they leave their cash to their kids what will those kids spend it on? A bunker with ten thousand tins of baked beans in it?

There will be no joy in the post-apocalyptic world of heavy-duty climate change. It will be hot, but not happy.

There will be no joy in the post-apocalyptic world of heavy-duty climate change. It will be hot, but not happy. Birds will not sing. Trees and plants will not grow. It will be a scorched desert in some places. In others rainfall will be unremitting, floods will wash the land away. Hurricanes, typhoons and tornadoes will be common. There won’t be anything nice to spend your money on because when society is on its knees the cocktails, the lovely meals, the beautiful views, the goods and services will simply not be available. Only a person with no imagination and no conscience could think that world destruction is a worthwhile result of doing their job.

Even for those of us who dither between endless small choices: eat meat or give it up; cycle or drive, car or train, fly on holiday or not, daily life is like the marshmallow experiment: you have to decide either to have what you want now or wait for a deferred reward. In fact, it is worse because instead of waiting two minutes and getting a second marshmallow that you can then eat with the first one you saved, in real life you dither endlessly wondering if the politicians, writers and snake-oil salesmen are right about these thousands of choices and their eco-fitness. And where’s the reward? So what do you do? You become a skilled equivocator. You learn bad faith. And you just get the dribs and drabs of fun that come your way. Nothing fancy either way. You settle for a compromise.

We pretend to love our children, but despite our protestations we love comfort more.

I will appear to be good and claim to myself that I am good, but I will not pay too much attention to what is going on. I will not get involved. If I see too much and I know too much I will have to take risks or change. The Good Samaritan was an independently wealthy businessman with time to spare, we tell ourselves. He was not a zero-hours data-entry clerk who would get docked a morning’s pay for being five minutes late and lose his job for missing an hour. Someone else can sort that out, if it really needs it.

criminals, who are the most selfish and violent of us, manage modern day slavery.

So where do we end up? Let’s look at something most of us do – work. Work is an expression of our value system and criminals, who are the most selfish and violent of us, manage modern day slavery. Just slightly inside the UK law is the zero-hours contract, and what a brilliant wheeze it is! I am the employer. I guarantee you the worker nothing but the vague suggestion of work at some point, but if you put a foot wrong I will sack you. Leaving aside the question of whether you can actually be sacked from a job which offers you virtually nothing and is merely a legalized form of slavery, we have to ask how Parliament, the religions, the Trade Unions and all the other people who say they care appear to have had precisely NO effect on the existence of this evil and insulting method of exploiting people. We look the other way. We cannot be bothered. And we are the ‘first world’. The wealthy part. The part where laws are supposed to work. The part with human rights.

they will sacrifice the future of the entire planet for a few more years with their snouts in the trough

Like the Exxon-Mobil people who predicted climate change and then set out to destroy public belief in science with US presidential backing we are slaves in the service of money. Self-serving comfort is our main aim so we will not rock the boat. And we all know you can rock the boat of the poor but if you rock the boats of the rich you will be quickly pushed overboard and knocked on the head with a boathook. Who will tell the ‘wealth-creators’ not to exploit the poor? Not me, boss!

To create a sustainable planet is going to be hard for us because our modus operandi is to take what we can and never mind what happens after that. We push the costs out onto somebody else in order to increase our own profits. Companies routinely pollute the earth, air and water and exploit the people in and around them. As private citizens we also throw out our plastics, our exhaust fumes, our rubbish and emissions. We all externalize the costs to make a bigger profit for ourselves. Large scale or small scale: we are all playing the same game. The oil companies are big players: they will sacrifice the future of the entire planet for a few more years with their snouts in the trough. Employers routinely pay as little as possible and demand as much work as they can possibly squeeze out of the worker. Many deals are legal only because law and government work alongside big money to allow injustice to occur. As private citizens we try to shit on the neighbour’s doorstep, rather than our own. But shit we do!

We are crackheads: our own pleasure now this minute is far more important than our own welfare and survival in the future

The level of egalitarianism, financial justice, in our society correlates well with our ability to understand complex ideas and prepare for an ecologically sound future. In the UK, the most unequal country in Europe, public awareness is low, the country looks inward, self-obsessed and xenophobic, unable to learn easily from the outside world. The government routinely lies to and cheats the people, believing that propaganda can replace intelligent, properly funded, well-organised action. Corruption is rife. Interestingly, the search for profit from green energy has led to determined action by business while the government lags behind, ill-informed and surprised. Prime Minister Boris Johnson famously said that wind power couldn’t take the skin off a rice pudding: like many ignorant right-wing people he thought that burning fossil fuels gave a stronger class of energy than green power.

And who knows that hydrogen gives you twice the bang for your buck of any oil-based fuel? Boris has since done a U-turn on wind power, though everyone is waiting to see if legal and financial support materialize. This is a typical twenty-first century mess: when we need massive, well-informed and determined government action to change the game and hurry in the clean fuels we need, what do we get instead? Fudging; delays; misappropriation of funds. The UK government is encouraging HS2, the notoriously divisive and expensive high-speed rail project to get people from London to Birmingham slightly faster. Do we need this? No, we need zero-emission fuel-cell hydrogen trains with low fares (of free) to get people out of their cars. We need H2 vehicle charging points across the country, electric charging, cheap or free clean, regular bus services.

We need H2 vehicle charging points across the country, electric charging, cheap or free clean, regular bus services.

If you were the government and somebody told you that your road expansion scheme is more expensive than giving the entire population free travel on public transport, you might consider free transport as a possible solution to help fight the climate crisis, right? Not if you were in the pockets of the roadbuilding and car lobbyists! Solving the climate crisis does not count compared to satisfying rich people who will fund your political party. How will your party get on when the climate wipes out the world economy? The politicians simply do not believe the scientists. They cannot grasp the reality. The money is real. The other stuff is just data.

And the Covid pandemic? We need a test and trace system for Covid. Other countries have done it, but do we look at them? No, we are oblivious to their success. Instead the government shoehorns the test and trace into the private enterprise system, doling out millions with no tendering to dubious businesses run by their friends, regardless of whether they can produce or not. The pandemic drags on, strangling the economy. No price is too high for people wedded to neoliberal ideology. The British right will happily give up most of the country’s economic activity to keep its botched Covid plan – or indeed give up British trade with Europe over the sticking point of ‘the regulations’. Ministers refuse to guarantee current standards in law: there can only be one reason. The plan to lower them in order to make deals with people who have lower standards! Read the Americans and the Chinese. The aim is to keep the vote. Whose vote? The vote of people as stupid as they are. We will saw the legs off our economy to fit it on the Procrustean bed of far-right ideology. Does the government care for the voter? Not really because soon they plan to make a state where the voter is irrelevant.

The plan to lower them in order to make deals with people who have lower standards! Read the Americans and the Chinese

The Dunning-Kruger effect explains a lot about all of us: people perform poorly in areas where they lack knowledge and experience and then, because they lack knowledge they can’t see their own mistakes. Are we in Britain people who ‘won’t be told what to do’ or just people incapable of understanding that international trade is based on mutually agreed standards? In any case, for ‘freedom’ no sacrifice is too great, so long as someone else is making it. For the super-rich who run the UK the risks are small, and if the UK becomes unpleasant they merely have to take a private jet to their second homes because they all have golden visas to the countries they might one day need to call home. It is the poor who are stuck with the results and have to feel the pain. Just like climate change.

This is our problem with the future: we are blinkered. We cannot imagine the disaster which is already at our door. We are unable to see the successes of other nations, other companies, other people and learn from them. We doggedly stick to what we know. We believe in money. We stick to familiar ways. We cannot see outside our culture, whether it be our national culture or our personal culture. We stick to driving to work, though we should maybe move nearer to work instead, or work at home or go by bike or train. We fly to the sun on holiday. We even take eco-holidays in Costa Rica that involve jetting across half the world. Politicians cheerfully order massive coalmining programmes (India and Australia); chop down the Amazon (Brazil), deny climate change (USA) – and somehow people still vote for these mad characters.

UK becomes unpleasant they merely have to take a private jet to their second homes because they all have golden visas to the countries they might one day need to call home

We all know the cartoon of the man sawing away a branch – the branch he is sitting on. We think it is funny. How can anyone be so stupid? But we are all just like that, sawing away as fast as we can. Our children will suffer. Do we care? Obviously not, because if we did we would take wholehearted action to save their future. Doesn’t that put us in the same boat as the oil executives who will sacrifice the world? We will sacrifice our children’s world and pretend to ourselves that there was nothing we could do about it. Experts at self-deception, masters of scores of different types of mental bias, rather than change a few comfortable habits which are probably not even good for us we cheerfully commit our very own children to the torture of life in an increasingly desperate and dying world. As nature is falling to pieces around us right now how can we think that our children will be safe and happy thirty years on? Simple: don’t think about it! We are crackheads: our own pleasure now this minute is far more important than our own welfare and survival in the future. We pretend to love our children, but despite our protestations we love our comforts more. The seeds of destruction are sown, deep in the fertile soil of our own character.

we cheerfully commit our very own children to the torture of life in an increasingly desperate and dying world

What do we do instead of action? We fudge it. Ignorance and injustice go hand in hand and social problems quickly follow. We tolerate appalling levels of injustice all around us. It’s nobody’s business really! We vote for governments which create inequality. Inequality creates poverty and injustice. We look away. Why are we so keen to vote for rich people who despise us? If you are rich in the UK and you want to avoid the heavy new taxes that the European Union is about to impose on you, have no fear! Get some tame demagogues and the frothing right-wing press to teach the masses that it’s all the fault of Johnny foreigner. Kick him out and beat him up. Let’s not take rules from Europe: we will make our own! Several years of pandemonium later the job is done. Rich people’s money is safe. Britain is severed from the EU so now it can finally go ahead and build the Tory New Jerusalem, making its own rules in a race to the bottom in which no standard is left unlowered, no barrel unscraped. With the freedom to act unconstrained by Europe or by shame the government and its buddies then go on to break the rules (see if anyone cares – can they do anything about it – no!) and then to also break the law. We will be free to be governed by a band of incompetent fools who acknowledge no law but their own power. Brilliant! The rich are happy and the rest are miserable. Any solution to the impending climate crisis out of all this? Engineers are working on it, no thanks to the government.

We will be free to be governed by a band of incompetent fools who acknowledge no law but their own power. Brilliant!

Does it matter, this inequality, this climate emergency? Right now maybe not, if you are comfortably off and Covid has not yet destroyed your family, your job or your business. But in the long run our heedless attitude, our wilful ignorance and our lack of solidarity with both people and nature is slowly bringing the scissors of Fate closer to the threads of our lives. Nature is on its knees. Climate change is nothing more than a big black box experiment: put these chemical, physical and biological inputs in at one end and you will get those inevitable outputs out at the other! The laws of chemistry, physics and biology guarantee that if you put a fair bit of shit in one end and let it brew for a while you will in due course get a cataclysmic shitstorm at the other. The universe is paying us back in our own coin. It is a judgement. Not the whimsical judgement of the old boy up top who will go easy on you if you build a cathedral: this is the real thing: the actions of the human race throughout its whole existence are being weighed in the scales of the universe, the laws of nature are merely responding to what we put in. Our greatest art is self-deception, but this time there is nowhere to run and nobody but ourselves, the rich industrial world, to blame. What could we do to mitigate this now? Maybe I can hope the doomsayers are wrong. Maybe scientists will put an umbrella is space? Maybe not! How about these concrete actions, just for a start. You will hate them.

nature is slowly bringing the scissors of Fate closer to the threads of our lives. Nature is on its knees.

What can you actually do to help save the planet?

Don’t have children or if you can’t help it, not more than one. Dump the car and don’t buy another. Oil companies will change their tunes when they lose their market. Get an electric or a fuel cell car. Half of all car journeys are under to miles so what about walking? Bicycle, bus and train can cover the rest. Stop flying. Insulate and triple glaze your home. When clean heating or cooling tech arrives, try to get hold of it or demand we get the government to install it across the nation. Have holidays near your house. Wear natural fibres. Eat locally produced food and grow your own. Stop eating processed food and junk. Pack in the meat. Turn down the heating and wear more clothes in the house. Stop using so much electricity and so many appliances. Stop buying useless rubbish that falls to bits. Have three or four sets of clothes like our ancestors did. Avoid fashion. Keep the same phone for years or dump it. Come to that, try living like we did in the nineteen-fifties, but without the coal and the prejudice!

Need I go on? And of course try to constantly remind the elected leaders that their job is not actually to help rich people make more money at the cost of everyone else’s welfare and survival. Take direct action to stop projects which threaten our future. Even if we get unlimited clean energy our divisive and aggressive consumerism is still unsustainable.

Smart people are making smart appliances, but nobody really knows whether the world can handle the demands our intense and fast-growing over-consumption places upon it. Climate change will hit the world’s poorest – the ones who did least to create it – first. And as their lands become less habitable they will want to go where things are still OK. Africa will go north. Will we welcome them as brothers and sisters and apologise for ruining their already wretched lives? Of course not: we will view them as alien invaders and machine gun them by the dozen as they drown in the freezing waters off our European coasts. The final injustice of the colonizing power is to wipe out the very climate that has hitherto sustained us all, in the belief that we alone are immune and we are going to get away with it.

As fires blaze through Australia and the USA even a few on the lunatic right are beginning to wonder if the climate change thing might not be more than just a left-wing conspiracy theory. Having said that, the people who believe in Q-Anon are not well placed to have opinions on, well, anything. Quite possibly, the human race, the one that named itself sapiens, is just too utterly dim to survive. We will be the only species in the history of the planet to kill itself and most of the others through sheer stupidity alone. Our violent and greedy abuse of our fellow lifeforms has now back come to haunt us all.

people who believe in Q-Anon are not well placed to have opinions on, well, anything.

There is no-one so arrogant as the truly stupid fellow. Isn’t it that the Dunning-Kruger effect? “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” as Darwin said. We overestimate our own capabilities and fail to understand what expertise is. We can’t see what we don’t know or understand so we denigrate and undervalue it. We did not understand nature or our place in it. Last time we cared about nature and feared it is when we were pagans. Equally under-informed but going in a better direction and with a much smaller population! The smaller the human population, the more margin for error. A huge, technologized, high-consumption and interconnected population is like an overloaded boat: it doesn’t take much to tip it over.

We have failed to love each other. Our history is merely a record of wars, oppression, slavery and genocides.

We have failed to love each other. Our history is merely a record of wars, oppression, slavery and genocides. We failed to love the planet. We failed to appreciate the life-saving virtues of egalitarianism, we failed to heed the message of art and nature and learn to appreciate beauty all around us. Instead we made art a part of the capitalist system and threw nature into a skip. We have failed in so many ways and yet we know we are capable of more than corruption and failure. We need to understand the heart of wisdom. Collecting data is no use unless we can create knowledge. Knowledge is no use until we have discernment to know how to apply it. Applying it is impossible until we have the personal qualities and cooperative abilities required to make things actually work.

we made art a part of the capitalist system and threw nature into a skip

To survive we need to change. We need to be better people. Kinder, more loving, more deeply appreciative of nature and each other. We need to be frugal yet generous, gentle yet firm and committed. We have to stop bullshitting, especially to ourselves. We have to look reality in the eye. We need only one great ideal: to save ourselves as part of the web of natural life. There are no safe bunkers, long term, only delayed death in a harsher more difficult world. So we can start now. Bring down the temperature: buy less and do less but make it good quality. Eat only healthy unprocessed food. Don’t buy junk products. How come the Austrian government can legislate to remove ecologically damaging products from the shops? Because they want to. Anything that cannot be recycled or re-used or is not energy-efficient must be banned. If you all demand something then eventually your government will give in and do it.

And eat less. We eat too much then we throw food away. Nearly all of us are overweight and suffering from the diseases of affluence. Avoid rubbish food and drink. Most of what is in the supermarket is unhealthy crap. Make McDonald’s go out of business. It should never have existed. And now we know more about the effects of business on nature we can see where change is needed. Allowing our filthy economy to proceed in its present form will accelerate climate change, which is the equivalent of taking your grandchildren, tying them to a rock and waiting for the tide to come up and drown them.

build flatpack democracy, bottom up

Status should not depend on financial wealth or possessions. We should accord status to those who do good and help us out of the mess. Start by sacking the government and the local council. Refuse to listen to demagogues who stoke fear and hate, but leave you with nothing. Instead build flatpack democracy, bottom up, people you trust. Insist upon social justice and a more egalitarian society. And stop listening to the snake-oil salesmen. Nobody’s going to pop down and save you. Maybe greater awareness, compassion and sensitivity might help, but you will have to stop reading those rubbish newspapers and get off your backside. That way we will build the power, the solidarity and the mindset we need to survive, with nature, into the next century and, maybe, beyond. The way we live now is not sustainable, but a better future is possible if we are better people.

‘Can I be bothered?’ That is the question.

Pete Field graduated from Oxford University with a passion for all things French. He began his peripatetic life working as the assistant to a lumberjack in the Pyrenees. He is a translator a teacher and an artist. He has lived and worked in Italy, Germany, Spain, France, The UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The author doesn’t live in Sussex

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.

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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.

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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.

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